Philharmonia Orchestra/Edward Gardner – Janáček & Dvořák – David Fray plays Mozart

Piano Concerto No.22 in E flat, K482
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

David Fray (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Edward Gardner

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 31 May, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Edward Gardner. Photograph: Jillian EdelsteinTaking time out from his commitments with English National Opera and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner here conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in a well-balanced programme whose strong Czech flavouring was evident not only in the outer works but also in the demeanour of the Mozart concerto. It was a collection of works that strongly recalled the musical sympathies of the late Charles Mackerras.

Although he seems not to have so far tackled Janáček in the opera house, Gardner evinced no mean affinity with the composer in an account of his Sinfonietta which, despite a slightly deadpan ‘Intrada’ and some shaky ensemble in the second movement, had the measure of the music’s incisiveness and fervour. Thus the third movement built cumulatively towards a propulsive climax, then the fourth had a telling humour, and if the finale might have gained from more sustained intensity over its initial stages, the apotheosis capped the whole work convincingly – Gardner downplaying the rhetoric as the final bars surged to their vivid close.

David Fray. Photograph: emiclassics.comAfter which, Mozart could easily have been anti-climactic, yet the Twenty-Second Piano Concerto is in many respects the most eventful of the series – not least for its woodwind contribution that, in the central section of the Andante and that of the finale, takes on a serenade-like presence to which the Philharmonia players did full justice. For his part, David Fray was intent on pursuing a chamber-like discourse with the orchestra – the opening Allegro just a little too self-effacing, perhaps, but with the respective wistfulness and ebullience of its successors well brought out. Interesting, too, that Fray should have opted for the first-movement cadenza by Edwin Fischer – in its earnest development of earlier material hardly the improvisatory arabesque that Mozart would most likely have favoured, but which proved to be less jarring stylistically than might have been thought. Whether the brief solo in the finale was by Fischer or Frey, it set the seal on a winning account of this delectable piece.

After the interval came Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony – a work that now seems to outdo all but the inevitable ‘New World’ in terms of performance, and rightly so – the composer rarely, if ever, brought Brahmsian formal rigour into so productive an accord with his innate expressive spontaneity as here. Gardner presided over a reading which, if seldom revelatory, was nonetheless satisfying in its delineating of those traits – the first movement maintaining a simmering restiveness and unease that came to a head with the climactic transition back to the reprise and during the change from defiance to resignation in the coda, while the more winsome asides of the slow movement were never allowed to obscure its essential ambivalence, even in the rapt closing bars. After this the scherzo lacked nothing in rhythmic propulsion, Gardner mindful that the rumination of its trio was merely an interpolation in a movement where impulsiveness is never far below the surface, while the finale (rightly following on with only minimal pause) capped the performance with a powerful inevitability whose fullest extent was kept for the fatalistic coda.

A fine showing for the Philharmonia Orchestra, and a worthwhile concert overall such as makes one suspect orchestra and conductor will be working together again before too long. In just a few days’ time in fact!

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