Philharmonia Orchestra/Mackerras Lars Vogt [Till Eulenspiegel … Rhenish Symphony]

Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op.28
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.97 (Rhenish)

Lars Vogt (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 3 April, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Sir Charles Mackerras (b.1925). ©Chris LeeThis first of three Philharmonia Orchestra concerts conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, each including music by Richard Strauss, began with Till Eulenspiegel, the music teased into energetic and affectionate life. The occasional dropped stitch aside, the listener was carried through Till’s various escapades, the notes lifted off the page with veracity for something suspenseful and theatrical and revealed with cartoon-like vividness (maybe too much at times).

Lars Vogt. ©Hiroyuki ItoIn contrast Lars Vogt opened Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with a gentleness that the orchestra imitated before gathering tempo and potency. This attractively spontaneous account enjoyed sparkle and whimsy from Vogt, a capriciousness that rarely seemed mannered and which explored the work’s interior without compromising muscle; dynamic variegation was notable, so too the sense of chamber music interplay between Vogt and the orchestra, Mackerras ensuring a lively response to aid and abet Vogt. After what seemed an epic if unforced account of the first movement, the second movement’s curt and stand-offish strings were cowered by Vogt’s simple and pacific retorts before the good-humoured and yielding finale rounded-off an unusually searching and revealing performance.

Surprisingly, given he is an advocate of the arrangement, Mackerras stuck with violins together for the whole concert (sometimes he switches to antiphonal violins for the second half). Nevertheless, even without this textural ‘opening-up’, Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony was given a glorious outing (strange how Schumann’s wonderful symphonies are rare in the concert-hall yet much recorded), the first movement perfectly (moderately) paced, flexible, detailed and glowing (splendid horns). Perhaps ideally the three middle movements might each have ‘relaxed’ more, but there was no doubting that there was much to beguile and the fourth-movement description of Cologne Cathedral was suitably solemn and awe-struck, narrow-bore trombones contributing to airy balances. Mackerras chose some wide-ranging tempos for the finale that didn’t necessarily convince a through line, yet there was a joy here and something saved for an ebullient coda.

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