Philharmonia Orchestra/Hattori [The Merry Wives of Windsor … New World Symphony … Boris Giltburg plays Saint-Saëns]

Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor – Overture
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.22
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Boris Giltburg (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Joji Hattori

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 3 March, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Joji Hattori. Photograph: Dimo DimovThe Philharmonia Orchestra’s winter season rolled on with this enjoyable evening of popular pieces. The Overture to Otto Nicolai’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” rarely fails to bring a smile and this performance conducted by Joji Hattori didn’t disappoint. Ensemble was tight and string tone rich. Maybe there could have been a little bit more humour in the rumbustious music depicting Falstaff, but overall there was a pleasing sense of abandon.

Boris Giltburg. Photograph: Eric RichmondSaint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto was a memorable affair. Boris Giltburg took a spacious and the full-blooded romantic approach to the opening Andante, imbuing it with drama and panache. He was equally adept at turning corners into the playful Allegro scherzando, his sure-footedness and lightness of touch well supported by Hattori who was always responsive to the concerto’s change of moods. There was plenty of virtuosity throughout, Giltburg’s sweeps across the keyboard in the finale a particularly thrilling sight. However there’s more to this music than technical bravura, and in realising colour and fantasy with equal importance, Giltburg made this an account to cherish.

Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony is such a familiar piece it almost requires something out of the ordinary to make it sound fresh. There was much to admire in the playing here, but nothing to make this a reading which stood out. Hattori steered a fairly straightforward course through the four movements with good forward momentum and the orchestra nicely balanced. He stayed clear of any idiosyncrasies, which at least was a blessing, but the lovely folk-like melodies which populate the symphony were somewhat tired-sounding, especially in the scherzo. The highlight was a beautifully realised Largo, which was finely paced and featured some beautiful woodwind-playing, notably Jane Marshall’s tender cor anglais solo.

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