Eugene Onegin, Op.24 [selections; sung in Russian with English surtitles]
Swan Lake, Op.20 [selections]
The Nutcracker, Op.71 [selections]
Tatyana – Veronika Dzhioeva
Onegin – Tommi Hakala
Jac van Steen
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 4 December, 2016
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
As with love and marriage, Christmas and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker go together like a horse and carriage. Christmas came early to the Royal Festival Hall with this Philharmonia Orchestra concert.
To open, we were treated to a cannily devised selection from Eugene Onegin – Tatyana’s ‘Letter Scene’ and the opera’s denouement together with the ‘Polonaise’ and the ‘Waltz’. The news here is Veronika Dzhioeva. She has sung Tatyana in the opera house (just as the excellent Finnish baritone, Tommi Hakala, has portrayed Onegin), and it showed. Frankly, she is a cut above some of the Tatyana singers one has heard recently in London, a rich velvety Russian soprano but with that essential lower register. Secure, vibrant and living the role, her sound projected effortlessly (much as one remembers from Galina Vishnevskaya); this was outstandingly charismatic. Jac van Steen and the Philharmonia offered enthusiastic support and gave exuberant accounts of the orchestral numbers, although the ‘Waltz’ would have benefitted from a little less gusto and a little more polish.
Jac van Steen is formerly Music Director of the National Ballet of the Netherlands. Such experience stood him in good stead for The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. Tempos were apt – ‘Les petit cygnes’ was a little slower than normal, and eminently danceable – and in The Nutcracker there was music that tends to get glossed over outside the theatre but here was played with extraordinary fervour and commitment. Much the same applied to the ‘Apotheosis’ with which Swan Lake closes. You may see the end coming a mile off but played as here with total conviction it really was absolutely thrilling. In the Waltzes from both ballets, especially Nutcracker’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’, Steen created the illusion of building momentum over the music’s span without obviously increasing the speed.
There were outstanding individual contributions, especially Heidi Krutzen on harp and a notably fine cor anglais solo from Tom Blomfield, one of no less than eleven guest principals! This was a thoroughly enjoyable occasion with a conductor steeped in the repertoire who has lost none of his enthusiasm for music he knows inside out.