Philharmonia Orchestra – Opening Concert 2006-7 Season

Der Freischütz – Overture
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Symphony No.8 in G, Op.88

Sergey Khachatryan (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 September, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

A concert of favourites given without contempt, the overture to “Der Freischütz” given a potent outing in its opening smouldering strings and sepulchral-sounding (and secure) horns. This dynamic account swept along imperiously to a powerful conclusion.

Less certain was the concerto. That Sergey Khachatryan is a wonder is becoming more and more evident. He communes with the music through the violin and draws the listener in. His conception of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (or maybe he collaborated generously with Dohnányi) invoked an earlier generation of violinists in the spacious and becoming even slower way with the first movement. This was leisurely with a vengeance; yet there was so much to admire in the solo playing and in the accompaniment (not least Robin O’Neill’s bassoon-playing), a coming-together that was impressive and which emphasised the lyricism of the music, rendered by Khachatryan – after a somewhat nervy beginning and somewhat scrawny tone in the upper register – with a sweetness and serenity that was mesmerising. Yet, the lack of the march-like momentum that this music needs was at times conspicuous; no charges of indulgence could be made because Khachatryan simply isn’t like that, and the Philharmonia Orchestra’s contribution was bejewelled and ear-catching (not least in passages rendered sotto voce). Khachatryan gave the cadenza a noble passage; the programme was silent on the author; I think it was Fritz Kreisler’s.

But the problem of tempo was exacerbated when the Larghetto afforded very little contrast with the 25 minutes or so that had preceded it, as rapt and exquisite as it was. Yet the finale was too quick, rather snatched and lacking in wit. For all that, Khachatryan – as modest in acknowledging applause as his musicianship is innate – is a special talent.

Having only played Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony a few months ago in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, under Mikhail Pletnev, that this work (wonderful though it is) was here again so soon really did suggest ‘ever decreasing circles’ in terms of repertoire choices. That said, and not surprisingly, Dohnányi’s viewpoint was totally different to Pletnev’s; integrated and beguiling to the Russian’s sometimes-interesting, sometimes-infuriating intervention. Maybe Dohnányi went a little too far in his ‘immaculate conception’ – for while the flora and fauna and the song and dance of Dvořák’s most ‘homely’ symphony was a constant delight, there was a lack of Slavonic earthiness. Too pristine, maybe, but this brought some spot-on balances and a full quotient of detailing, as well as first-class solo and corporate playing, Dohnányi’s use of antiphonal violins another aural plus-point.

Somewhat stylised this account may have been, but the composer’s personality and mastery wasn’t compromised. The introspection of the Adagio was well-captured, so too the elegant sway of the Allegretto grazioso – with Dohnányi showing much affection (and encouraging some portamento, too) – and, in the finale, the horns’ trills cut through with glee and the closing bars were exhilarating.

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