Philharmonia Orchestra/Luisi Jansen & Rysanov

Sinfonia concertante in E flat for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, K364
Symphony No.9 in C, D944 (Great)

Janine Jansen (violin) & Maxim Rysanov (viola)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Fabio Luisi

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 9 March, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Fabio LuisiFabio Luisi was here substituting for an indisposed Christoph von Dohnányi. The reputation of Luisi – until recently Chief Conductor of Staatskapelle Dresden and now Music Director-designate of Zurich Opera – has been growing apace, particularly with recordings of Richard Strauss and Bruckner; however, the concert left a rather mixed impression.

The performance of the Mozart was very satisfying. Both Janine Jansen and Maxim Rysanov are blessed with immaculate techniques and beauty of tone, but – every bit as important – they clearly have a deep mutual love for this work, one of the composer’s greatest. The first movement’s orchestral exposition was a definite maestoso, perfectly complementing the soloists’ opening phrases. The subsequent dialogue between the pair was both lively and tender, two amorous voices successively sparring with each other. The slow movement is one of Mozart’s loveliest. Here Jansen and Rysanov imbued the long-drawn phrases with all the requisite plaintiveness, and their body-language and stolen glances were very real reflections of their unity of purpose. The melancholy of the cadenza was emphatically conveyed, and at the close the horns and oboes perfectly echoed this mood. In the finale the vital and cajoling dialogue between the soloists set the seal on a fine reading.

Unfortunately, the performance of Schubert’s Ninth was nothing more than routine. While the playing of the Philharmonia was of a high standard, any newcomer to this masterpiece would have been hard put to understand what makes the work special. The slow introduction was rather prosaically done, generating hardly any expectation, and was succeeded by an unwarranted tempo increase, and a crescendo leading into the main body of the movement that was more Allegro than Allegro non troppo. There was generally little light and shade, and also a wayward attitude to dynamics. The second subject, for example, wasn’t taken piano, but instead at a sturdy mezzo-forte, so that the ensuing crescendo was diminished in effect. Although, to his credit, Luisi did repeat the exposition, the intention was defeated by the manner of execution. And the emphatic if old-style rallentando at the end of the first movement was far from convincing.

Matters improved somewhat in the Andante con moto, thanks to a fine oboe solo from Gordon Hunt. But a sense of monotony set in during the berceuse-like second subject during which there was no really soft playing. Neither were the contrasting sections – by turns march-like, tranquil, and explosive – properly characterised. The one big climax of the movement seemed hardly to differ from the others, and the ensuing cello theme was far from pianissimo. The scherzo, taken quite fast, was somewhat stolid in character, the overall effect being one of doggedness rather than exhilaration.

The finale was similarly half-hearted; and although taken at a decent enough tempo there was little bounce and details were again under-characterised. Come the coda, with its unison Cs pounded out in the strings, the prevailing feeling was more of having been assaulted rather than invigorated. In the last three bars Luisi made a diminuendo, which might have worked if there had been a sufficient head of steam built up beforehand – but there wasn’t, and so the effect was laborious. The audience’s hesitation to applaud doubtless arose from this miscalculation.

  • Fabio Luisi conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra on Saturday 13 March at 7.30 p.m. – Weber, Brahms and Schumann
  • Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Philharmonia Orchestra information:
    Freephone 0800 652 6717

  • Southbank Centre

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