Philharmonia Orchestra/Jakub Hrůša – Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and, with Rudolf Buchbinder, Piano Concerto No.2 – Philharmonia Chamber Players in Beethoven & Brahms

Sonata in F for Horn and Piano, Op.17
Piano Quartet No.3 in C-minor, Op.60

Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat, Op.83
Symphony No.4 in E-minor, Op.98

Philharmonia Chamber Players, including Jonathan Maloney (horn) & Ljubica Stojanovic (piano)

Rudolf Buchbinder (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Jakub Hrůša

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: 23 March, 2017
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Jakub HrůšaPhotograph: Zbynek MaderycThe Philharmonia Chamber Players, continued the welcome preceding of an orchestral concert with a free recital. Beethoven’s Horn Sonata was played sturdily by Jonathan Maloney, and most secure in the lower register, which suits the music’s lyrical nature. Ljubica Stojanovic made the piano part glow. Their treatment of the brief slow movement as a quiet, distant march was a notable feature. Treated in a romantic manner, Brahms’s C-minor Piano Quartet’s many ideas were expressed thoughtfully. This work’s melodies are loosely knitted together, contrasting with Brahms’s tautly constructed Fourth Symphony heard later. Apart from the Andante, the pianist boldly introduces most subjects. Stojanovic fashioned them with skill and imbued the Scherzo with liveliness without overpowering the gentle utterances of the strings. All was relaxed, and in its day, I can imagine these sounds being soaked up by listeners seated comfortably in a large salon.

Rudolf BuchbinderPhotograph: Marco BorggreveRudolf Buchbinder’s career began early in his teens. I recall his sparkling accounts of Mozart Concertos many years ago and was reminded of this because of his right-hand’s lightness of touch in the expansive Brahms. Tempos were generally broad and after an immaculately played opening horn solo the pianist became integrated into the music’s flow; there were no sudden changes of character for livelier episodes and the resultant stateliness allowed pianist and orchestra to phrase with care and sensitivity. The Scherzo had an enlivening impetus and the central section’s swinging rhythm was exhilarating. Here Buchbinder enhanced the passage featuring a soft flurry of notes by using the sustaining pedal to create a suitable mistiness. The cello soliloquy that opens the Andante must be contoured thoughtfully and following Karen Stephenson’s elegant presentation, her phrasing was then precisely echoed by Buchbinder – an ideal combination of musical thought. The unhurried Finale entered without pause, Buchbinder’s insouciant treatment of the opening theme being a special delight.

Jakub Hrůša’s interpretation of the Fourth Symphony was one of considerable grandeur, incorporating thoroughly musical shaping and included a particularly meaningful rendering of the simple opening. The creative element was evident throughout, made possible not only by generally broad speeds but also because, once the conductor set a tempo, he firmly adhered to it; there can be the temptation to dramatise loud passages but not so with Hrůša. The Philharmonia strings, combining strength with sweetness of tone, helped to create a sense of majesty which extended also to the Andante. Here the forceful chords that interrupt the peacefulness of the horn-led main melody were all the more effective for their unhurried doggedness. A lively Scherzo followed with the significant triangle part played somewhat modestly. Hrůša’s measured if imposing approach much suited the Finale. Brahms gives only one tempo change, Più allegro which is marked some sixty bars before the end and Hrůša was strictly obedient to the instructions except for one forgivable moment when he allowed the gentle brass chorale to expand following the reflective flute solo. Given firm control and powerful playing, the coda combined excitement with gravity.

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