Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15
Symphony No.2 in C, Op.61
Hélène Grimaud (piano)
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 23 April, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Philippe Jordan is a formidable musical force – in the French meaning (stunning), in the English one (powerful). Physically, he is tall and agile, nimble and sweeping. He conducts with lithe, relaxed tension. His gestures are suave yet utterly controlled He is a taskmaster with a cool head. His beat is precise. He articulates his further demands clearly – and expects rigour and exactitude in return.
The music-making here had pointed impact, right from the start. At moments of heightened drama, his outstretched arms swept across the orchestra, like a bat. However, Jordan, who is fully grounded in opera, also charms the instruments into singing. Each woodwind entry – joyous, melodious and distinctive – was an aria in miniature, developing into a duet, trio and quartet. Jordan left the strings free to surge in the sea-swell during the Mendelssohn, the waves rolling formidably under the pulse of the brass; tempos – a little slower than the average – allowed the music to sound physically unforced.
Brahms’s First Piano Concerto had an extraordinary, searing white heat, and a laser-like intensity of communication between conductor and soloist.
Hélène Grimaud (who was advertised as playing Brahms No.2) and Jordan were true partners. Both have keen musical sensibilities and defend their convictions. Equally, both are concerned to respect fellow musicians – he with singers, she in chamber music. They listened to each other, palpably, in a matching of sensibilities. The result was a particular, and rare, presentation of Brahms’s work as a great lyrical outpouring of swelling sensibility and impassioned beauty, with a grandeur that derived from a meeting of hearts. Grimaud excelled herself – she was incisive and thrilling, octaves tumbling precisely and tumultuously. She also sang – unforgettably.
Even so, the Schumann was the highlight. Jordan came into his own with this great symphony, a wordless song-cycle for orchestra, depicting the composer’s torment and torment – and his love for Clara. This exposure of the soul – a personal, idiosyncratic drama – is one that Jordan seems to understand as if it were his own.
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