Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
The Planets – Suite for large orchestra, Op.32
Yundi Li (piano)
Ladies of Philharmonia Voices
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: 21 October, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
With the Philharmonia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit presented a programme of Sibelius’s Finlandia, Grieg’s Piano Concerto (with Yundi Li) and Holst’s The Planets, with surprisingly disparate results.
First was Sibelius’s Finlandia. The opening chorale failed to generate any tension, the allegro section lacked energy, and the patriotic, hymn-like theme was earthbound. The ending simply sounded loud.
Chinese pianist Yundi Li then played Grieg’s Piano Concerto. In 2000, Li was the youngest winner of the International Chopin Competition, at the age of 18, and has subsequently made several recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. His performance of the concerto’s dramatic opening cascade immediately signalled an increase in musical tension. Unfortunately, the performance of the orchestra under Dutoit remained as stubbornly lacklustre as it had been in Finlandia. This disparity between the interest generated by the pianist and the lifelessness of the orchestra was apparent throughout. For his part, Li’s performance of the coda to the first movement was a marvel of controlled passion and the Adagio an affecting account of melting lyricism.
After the interval, it was if a different conductor and orchestra were at work. The change was immediately apparent in the intense, forceful account of ‘Mars’, featuring superb brass and powerfully expressive string-playing. ‘Venus’ was given a cool, otherworldly reading (the quiet playing unfortunately marred by the sound of people rifling through programmes and displaying a barrage of bronchial afflictions). ‘Mercury’ was remarkable for the surprising passion that Dutoit found in the central section, while ‘Jupiter’ featured both rhythmically incisive playing in the outer sections and a glorious rendition of the famous central tune. ‘Saturn’ and ‘Uranus’ both featured interpretations of penetrating insight and intensity (superb timpani in the latter), followed by a ‘Neptune’ of the utmost delicacy and refinement. The distant female choir was movingly beautiful. The fade into infinity was perfectly managed and, as Holst intended, it was impossible to tell when the last note had faded away.