Philharmonia Orchestra/Paavo Järvi Nicola Benedetti

Don Juan, Op.20
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)

Nicola Benedetti (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Paavo Järvi

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 4 March, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

On the face of it this afternoon concert should have been a sure-fire success, a standard programme with an attractive soloist: nothing here to frighten the punters. In the event, a few bright shafts of sunlight aside, this was a dispiriting afternoon.

Don Juan received a brazen ill-focused reading, its peaks reaching a decibel level barely tolerable. At Paavo Järvi’s furious tempo the opening lacked weight and, more importantly, sinew. Its best moments came in the quieter sections, notably the fine oboe solo from Christopher Cowie (who recently gave such an exquisite Strauss Concerto with Dohnányi) and in the sensitive violin solos from Maya Iwabuchi. The pause at the work’s climax was absurdly protracted.

Nicola Benedetti brought an altogether surer touch to the first of Bruch’s concertos. Despite her youth and the object of far too much hype, Benedetti – rather like her compatriot, the tennis player Andy Murray – has her feet firmly on the ground. She is certainly still fallible on a technical level but she is unfailingly musical and invariably communicates her devotion to whatever she is playing. Her performance was non-showy, musically mature and thoroughly affecting, touched with all the freshness of youth. Symptomatic of this was the work’s finale, which is marked Allegro energico. Frequently used simply as an excuse for violinistic fireworks, on this occasion it was genuinely energetic rather than merely swift. For the most part, the reduced orchestra accompanied with tact and sensitivity. For an encore Benedetti played the opening movement of Bach’s Partita in D minor.

Bluster returned with the ‘Pathétique’. This symphony presents a series of hurdles for the unwary interpreter, the first movement in particular depending for its effect on establishing workable tempo relationships. Järvi more or less fell at the first fence, the Adagio opening swiftly leading to an over-excitable Allegro non troppo which did not allow for anything resembling clean articulation and then had to be sharply reined in for the most lugubrious Andante, which dragged interminably. With the ff thunderclap we were off again at a furious pace, the movement’s climax lacking any real weight and its ending marred by the conductor’s introduction of a huge unmarked rallentando as it limped to its close.

So it went on: the ‘Waltz’ lacking in elegance, the March devoid of inner momentum and the strings at the opening of the finale all but obliterated by ill-timed applause greeting the ‘March’. The Philharmonia did its best but frankly the musicians received little help from a conductor whose beat became all but invisible at the score’s danger points.

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