Philharmonia Orchestra/Mackerras Viktoria Mullova

Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Viktoria Mullova (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 10 May, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Sir Charles Mackerras here led an uplifting concert. His layout of the orchestra was ideal – the double basses (six for the Mendelssohn, four for the rest of the concert) were lined across the back of the platform and were thus able to project their sound forward, and Mackerras’s use of ‘period’ brass (natural horns and narrow-bore valve-less trumpets) added distinctive and well-balanced timbres.

The programme opened with Mendelssohn’s picturesque overture in a performance that bristled with atmosphere and incident. A threatening landscape was presented and contrasted with sweet-toned reflection – the calm before the storm. When the tempest finally arrived – Barnaby Robson’s magically floated clarinet solo interrupted the gathering dark clouds – it was achieved through thunderous timpani and energised playing under Mackerras’s vital and baton-less gestures.

Mackerras and Viktoria Mullova were like-minded interpreters of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, agreeing that the first movement should be an up-tempo march. It was very convincing. Mullova, joining in the tuttis, played impeccably, if slightly at one-remove at times, and with a clear-sighted view of how this music should progress. There was no lack of contemplation when required but without sacrificing a sense of motion, the orchestra blazing forth or lurking in the shadows.

It was a pity that the cadenzas Mullova chose were not identified. They are probably the ones written for her and included on her recording conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. Both, it must be said, are a little too long, and lean a little too much to Paganini, but she played them with bravura.

Also flowing was the second movement Larghetto, yet its meditative qualities were well caught, and the finale was vigorous but with a light touch and always poised and shapely. Throughout, the Philharmonia Orchestra was a vivid partner, Mackerras at-one with his soloist. That the performance was all over in 38 minutes, and given the length of the cadenzas, says much about the speeds adopted – this was a ‘dancing’ account that rarely put a step wrong.

Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony was a joy. Trumpets and timpani were vivid but not gratuitous and Mackerras conjured a bracing and lyrical account that was beautifully balanced and cleanly detailed. Animated and in equilibrium, the outer movements exhilarated, while the slow movement (the lack of vibrato a welcome ‘decoration’) was malleable, keenly accented and caught its ‘shifting sands’ character ideally. The Minuet and Trio elided perfectly and lilted persuasively. Mackerras’s repeat scheme was spot-on. He observed them all except the one in the second movement Andante cantabile (thus avoiding the formality of the lead-back bars and bringing seamless expression) and took both in the finale – how important the second one is both structurally and emotionally. Come the fugal conclusion, the music was ablaze and the trumpet fanfares that close the work were suitably majestic. A masterly and memorable performance.

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