Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Op.43 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Lars Vogt (piano)
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: 19 April, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
There seems little that can stop the inexorable rise of Philippe Jordan, especially in the opera house – he becomes Music Director of Opera National de Paris next season. However, taking on two core works from the central European repertoire usually sorts the men from the boys, and whilst there were some good things in the Brahms there was nothing to get particularly excited about. The overture (to Beethoven’s only ballet score) was solid enough with weighty strings, steady tempos and a sense of expectation that cued an exciting coda.
The ‘Emperor’ Concerto was something of a disappointment. Lars Vogt’s technique is never anything but impressive – there’s a crystalline quality to his playing which illuminates every detail of a score and a fluidity to seems effortless (the trills in the Adagio were a joy) – but the performance seemed wilfully anti-Olympian in conception.The gentle, anti-climatic opening was a statement of intent, every phrase fresh and newly minted. But Jordan was unwilling to adopt the same softly-softly approach and Vogt’s mission of understatement backfired frequently and disappeared in the orchestral accompaniment. This wasn’t a problem in the Adagio even if Vogt’s playing lacked poetry. The finale was explosive, though, Jordan and the Philharmonia Orchestra similarly ignited; the performance now became more conventional, soloist and conductor more responsive towards each other.
Brahms’s Fourth Symphony was a decidedly mixed bag. A leaden opening sounded tired rather than wistful, the Philharmonia seemed bored, Jordan, however solid his technique, seemed unable to inject any rhythmic vitality into a performance that was going nowhere. But in the recapitulation the orchestra burst into life with an urgency that had been so palpably lacking. From then on things got better. The Andante was in turns delicate and calm, Jordan letting the movement unfold serenely and with a sense of direction; the cellos were particularly sweet. However the distinct uneasiness that Brahms clearly signposts throughout this movement was somewhat lacking and bland-sounding. The scherzo was suitably high-spirited and swift, a strong rhythmic thrust if a threat to precise ensemble precision, and, in the finale, Jordan was taut and disciplined, striking a suitably dark tone from the opening, the trombones strikingly Wagnerian, the close appositely tragic.