Philharmonia Orchestra/Mackerras Till Fellner [Also sprach Zarathustra]

Also sprach Zarathustra, Op.30
Piano Concerto No.18 in B flat, K456
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90

Till Fellner (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 6 April, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Sir Charles Mackerras. Photograph: Clive BardaThe second of three Philharmonia Orchestra concerts conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras featuring music by Richard Strauss and a ‘third’ symphony – Schumann’s and Beethoven’s being the others.

To begin this afternoon concert, Also sprach Zarathustra allowed the Royal Festival Hall’s ‘Swell’ organ to be used; other parts of the instrument are yet to be re-installed. The sound was just right. Surprisingly, Mackerras eschewed antiphonal violins throughout the concert; this may have resulted in a muddying of textures in ‘Zarathustra’, though the eight double basses, lined up across the back of the platform, was particularly elucidating of their textures, particularly in ‘Of Science’. A shaky start from the trumpets in the ‘Dawn’ section (inextricably associated with Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey”) was recovered quickly and kept well in check by Mackerras until the final awakening, which was glorious. The music then flowed with a momentum that seemed inevitable: the musical journey that veers from the ‘backworldsmen’ to the dramatic surging of ‘Joys and Passions’ produced ecstatic rewards.

Till Fellner. ©Gabriela BrandensteinAlfred Brendel was in the audience to hear his pupil Till Fellner give a rather hard-edged account of a piano concerto by Mozart written when he was 28. (Mozart’s age at the time of composition of any of his works can be calculated quite accurately by dividing the K-number by 25 and adding 10.) Despite his woody approach, Fellner succeeded in exposing playful detail, Mackerras unfolding orchestral passages without forcing them, which, in particular, gave the Andante a rare, radiant beauty, and Fellner gave an injection of humour into the finale. In this concerto Mozart is especially generous to the woodwinds, and the Philharmonia’s representatives produced energetic and fluid playing.

Similarly individual contributions from oboe, clarinet and flute gave the opening movement of Brahms’s Third Symphony (exposition repeat observed) grace and the restraint that Mackerras brought to bear in the middle movements paid huge dividends; the lilting horn solo in the third movement was particularly effective. The finale found the orchestra in energised form, giving exuberance to its marching theme. Each movement closes quietly and Mackerras controlled each one carefully.

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