Philharmonia Orchestra/Lorin Maazel – Romeo and Juliet & Pathétique Symphony – Vadim Repin plays Prokofiev

Romeo and Juliet, Op.64 [selections from Suites 1 & 2, Opp.64a & 64b – Montagues and Capulets; Romeo at the Grave of Juliet; The Death of Tybalt]
Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.63
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)

Vadim Repin (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Lorin Maazel

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 8 December, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Lorin Maazel. Photograph: Silvia LelliIf three excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet music gives little indication of the 150-minute score, Lorin Maazel and the Philharmonia Orchestra nevertheless delivered the crunchy discords of the warring ‘Montagues and Capulets’ with theatrical tension and maximum force – to throw us directly into a tragic drama – and then found urgency and incisiveness for the knights contrasted by shadowy and icy interludes. The ‘Grave’ scene was painfully intense, opulent even come the remembrance of the star-crossed lovers’ happier times, the violins secure in the highest registers and the fullest climax radiating a Lulu-like glower. ‘The Death of Tybalt’ mixed accuracy and impetus before becoming savagely funereal and cathartic. Very simply, one wanted more!

Vadim Repin. Photograph: Olaf Heinedg/DGWith saxophonist, pianist and harpist no longer required, the slimmed-down, if still colourful and pungent Philharmonia welcomed Vadim Repin. His opening soliloquy found him a little questionable regarding tone and note-length. But he settled quickly and could not have wished for a more-attentive accompaniment. Repin’s way with the solo part compelled attention without being totally convincing, the first movement unstintingly acerbic and volatile, the violinist taking athletic strides then yielding to edgy reflection. The central movement, beautifully tick-tocking under Maazel’s typically authoritative baton, began with innocent confidences, elaborated on and diverted from before returning to simplicity without quite touching the heart. The finale, with its curious castanets, was unusually fleet and angular; it was a bit relentless, but the musicians were agreed on their unwavering approach.

On this occasion it wasn’t possible to take the ‘Pathétique’ Symphony for granted. Timings give little indication of what really happened. So if Maazel took 51 minutes (several minutes longer than the average), so what, for it all seemed so intrinsic. Indeed, without courting any controversy, Maazel’s vision, the odd tenuto (second movement) and broadening (third) aside, was wholesome and direct. The first movement was rigorous, expansive and flexible, with many a subtlety, its lugubriousness, more-contented feelings, nostalgia, tempest, passionate outpouring and acceptance fully stated while welded into a whole. Superbly executed (for the most part), the members of the Philharmonia Orchestra suggested that this music, which rarely leaves their stands, was here special to them, their concentration and commitment palpable. The second-movement waltz was all footlights and fancy-free, Maazel then ensuring that its successor was suitably Allegro (if not molto) and vivace, that little bit of extra time aiding articulation and still leaving room to expand to martial pomp, brass not overwhelming the long-bowed strings.

Maazel took a long pause before beginning the finale (a shame about the intervening applause, one audience member shouting “shut up”). Whether or not this Adagio lamentoso is Tchaikovsky’s suicide note, Maazel inspired something sweet and searing, eloquent and very moving; sotto voce strings caught the air, bassoons were particularly prominent, the gong-stroke was for once doom-laden and lingering, and the fading light of the day was beautifully suggested, double basses still offering a pizzicato pulse … and then to nothing and a long silence. Without whimsy, this performance new-minted the ‘Pathétique’ Symphony through musical surety and, by the close, delivered a heartfelt poignancy that was deeply affecting and haunting.

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