Philharmonia Orchestra/Netopil [Flying Dutchman Overture & Brahms 1 … Marc-André Hamelin plays Liszt]

Wagner
Der fliegende Holländer – Overture
Liszt
Piano Concerto No.2 in A
Brahms
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Marc-André Hamelin (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Tomáš Netopil


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 10 March, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Tomáš Netopil. Photograph: www.tomasnetopil.comOriginally designed for the late Sir Charles Mackerras (he died last July at the age of 85), this programme and soloist were unchanged and the Philharmonia Orchestra welcomed back Tomáš Netopil (aged 35 and currently the music director of the National Theatre of Prague) who had conducted at Sir Charles’s memorial concert last November. The Overture to Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” lacked for turbulence in its opening; then the slower music for Senta was unduly lingered over and the woodwind-playing was tentative (possibly not helped by a ringing mobile and an outbreak of coughing). Although greater energy and theatrical import informed the Overture’s closing stages, Netopil’s careful detailing of the string parts was rather outdone by too-loud trumpets and trombones.

Marc-André Hamelin. Photograph: Nina LargeThe woodwinds were altogether more seamlessly expressive at the beginning of the Liszt. Marc-André Hamelin created a creamy-rich piano sound from the Steinway (presumably the RFH’s regular instrument) against a glowing orchestra to conjure a ‘tales by the fireside’ atmosphere. Hamelin’s forceful and rhetorical playing was also impressive in terms of timbre and technique, although he tended to dominate unduly and could be a little bullish; even so, the sound in the piano’s treble in painterly terms was an attractive matt magnolia rather than a tiresome brilliant white. There were moments when the accompaniment seemed a little deferential, but the cello solo was tenderly expressed by Timothy Walden – although had Netopil employed antiphonal violins (which would have suited all the music here) then the cellist would have been where Liszt intended, adjacent to the pianist rather than at a relative distance with the piano in the way! Otherwise this was a communicative and exciting account if not the most fantastical or offering the most triumphal homecoming.

Just as the Wagner had done, the opening of Brahms’s First Symphony was a little subdued, neither pregnant nor suspenseful enough, but attractively pastel-shaded and lucidly balanced. However, with the exposition (convincingly repeated) the first movement took off at a swift tempo and with emotional engagement, Netopil avoiding what can be sluggish retards of tempo at the ‘usual’ places. This was a thrilling traversal and continued with a slow movement both songful and eloquent (and notable for Gordon Hunt’s oboe solos and Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay’s contribution on violin) and then a graceful third, rather balletic. The finale was both the momentous and victorious conclusion it should be, Netopil observing the letter and finding the spirit of Brahms’s score. This was a fresh, virile, poetic and exhilarating performance of a familiar symphony, played with conviction.


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