Philharmonia Orchestra/Dutoit Janine Jansen – Beethoven & Mahler

Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Symphony No.1

Janine Jansen (violin)

Philharmonia OrchestraCharles Dutoit

Reviewed by: Alex Verney-Elliott

Reviewed: 25 November, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

This concert was dedicated to Richard Hickox who had died the previous Sunday; he had recently completed a series of Vaughan Williams concerts with the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Janine JansenIn the first half, Janine Jansen made Beethoven’s Violin Concerto sound new-minted. Her genius was to give the illusion that she was inventing the work there and then, improvising with spontaneity. Her playing was also free of mannerisms if also rather reserved and darker in tone than is usually the case. Charles Dutoit gave sensitive support but the orchestral playing was rather lacklustre, woodwinds and trumpets too recessed and strings lacking attack and weight.

In the slow movement Jansen played with appropriate serenity bringing a strange if glowing tone, and the finale was played with rugged panache and lilting grace, the Philharmonia now more involved.

Dutoit perfectly sustained the quite opening passages of Mahler’s First Symphony giving the music an eerie edge rarely heard and which was thankfully free from intrusions from phones ringing and coughs. The woodwinds shone though, the rather etiolated-sounding strings made the music sound chamber-like. But there was the rather embarrassing theatrics of the eight horn-players standing-up in the coda, a cheap effect and one stealing Mahler’s thunder who instructs these musicians to stand in the finale.

The second-movement scherzo was conducted and played with great swagger, Dutoit securing exuberant and buoyant dance rhythms. The double bass soloist opening the slow movement lacked style, robbing the music of its ‘Fagin’ characterisation – dull and uninvolved instead of revealing gritty dark humour. Dutoit played down Mahler’s sarcastic send-up of the military band.

Least successful was the finale, which sounded noisy rather than stormy – noise is hollow and empty whereas a storm is intense and overwhelming; this was underwhelming, percussion sounding brittle and harsh-toned. Sadly the climax was rather rushed and clipped, the closing bars rather pushed-though; yet there was much that was eloquent and elegant in the journey as a whole from a musician (unusual today) who is not associated with conducting Mahler.

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