Philharmonia Orchestra/Dudamel Piotr Anderszewski – Brahms & Shostakovich

Brahms
Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15
Shostakovich
Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47

Piotr Anderszewski (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Gustavo Dudamel


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 5 June, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Few classical artists have attracted the attention Gustavo Dudamel has garnered in recent years, such that the temptation to put this down to ‘hype’ on the part of an increasingly desperate music industry is hard toresist.

This programme, consisting of two substantial works in D minor(why do programmers often shun the opportunity to couple works according tokey: those aware of such matters can relish the parallel in tonaltrajectories, while those who are not will hardly be bothered in any case),provided a platform to silence the doubters and demonstrate his interpretativemettle.

Piotr AnderszewskiIn the case of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto, it helped to have PiotrAnderszewski back from illness and on nearly his bestform. This was not a reading that emphasised the work’s physicality; norwas the inherent rhetoric of the opening Maestoso underplayed, Anderszewskihaving the measure of the movement, if concentrating less on its emotionalextremes than on placingthe many expressive nuances into finely-judged relief. One assumes it islargely his conception of the work – in which case, Dudamel failed togenerate the necessary tension in the initial tutti, and nor de he prevent thesecond subject from feeling becalmed on both its appearances, though thedevelopment lacked little in dynamic interplay while the coda drove home thetonic key as a baleful conclusion.

Sustained expressive focus also characterised the latter two movements. TheAdagio was rapt but not unrelieved in introspection, though the chamber-likeinterplay of piano and wind was not matched by a comparable lucidity inthose climactic passages where the strings add their presence. Lithe androbust, the finale also had an appealing spontaneity – though the stringfugato could have been more cleanly articulated, while Anderszewski’seloquent cadenza was slightly undermined by Dudamel’s self-conscioushandling of the rondo theme and a coda whose hard-won affirmation feltunduly rushed through. Even so, this was not an interpretation to lessenadmiration for this protean masterpiece.

Dudamel apparently demonstrated no mean Shostakovich credentials with hisperformance of the Tenth Symphony at last year’s Proms. Conducted frommemory, this account of the Fifth veered recklessly between theinspired and the ridiculous.

Gustavo Dudamel. Photograph: AP/Urs FlueelerThe tempo for the opening Moderato was ideallyjudged – searching without being lachrymose – and if the second subjectrather ran into the ground, its pathos was rarely in doubt. All the morepity, then, that Dudamel failed to effect a gradual build-up of tensionacross the development, whose frenzied manner left no room for the ambiguitywith which Shostakovich intensifies but never merely brutalises his themes.Nor was there sufficient emotional space for the climactic return of thefirst subject – here played ‘to the gallery’ with little thought as to itsphrasing. The rest of the movement was unexceptionally fine, and Dudamel didnot put a foot wrong in the Allegretto – bluffly ironic, with the capriciousviolin solos in the trio elegantlyinflected – until the closing bars, when his desire to maximise contrast wasmore than a little crass.

At nearly 18 minutes, the Largo became more than ever the symphony’s emotional heart. The Philharmonia strings were at their finest here – which madeit the more inexplicable that Dudamel did not secure a more rapt or variedintensity in the outer sections, nor a more ethereal quality in the centralepisode. The approach to the main climax was a little effortful, while theclimax itself again suffered from the over-emphasis that Dudamel clearlyfeels is mandatory in order to project this music to the audience.

Havingrightly begun the finale (almost) attacca, he then rode roughshod over thetempo accelerations of its first third, but the central section groped itsway out of the tonal and conceptual impasse with real inner concentration.The ensuing apotheosis largely eschewed overkill – neither vulgarlytriumphal nor portentously tragic – though there was more than a hint ofgreasepaintin the way that Dudamel guided this most equivocal of symphonic perorationsthrough to its close.

The response to this performance was predictably ecstatic, though how muchthis was due to the music itself is another matter. It would be wrong,however, to denigrate Dudamel’s interpretative prowess on account of this: beyond the easy charisma, there is clearly a musical sensitivity such ascould achieve considerable things in the future. If he can see his waythrough the bling that presently attends his every performance, hisnatural musicianship will become its own justification.

  • Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra on Sunday 8 June at 7.30 p.m. in the Royal Festival Hall
  • Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Philharmonia Orchestra information:
    Freephone 0800 652 6717

  • Southbank Centre

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