Philharmonia Orchestra/Philippe Jordan – Beethoven & Brahms – Simon Trpčeski plays Liszt

Overture, Leonore No.3, Op.72a
Piano Concerto No.2 in A
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Simon Trpčeski (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Philippe Jordan

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 3 May, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Philippe Jordan. Photograph: J. IfkovitsAn evening of music-making with a great orchestra on auto-pilot is a dispiriting experience. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with what was on offer and for the most part the playing was more than adequate and there were some excellent solo contributions. However it was as though we were being given all the externals, the notes themselves, but the music itself was largely absent.

The Beethoven opened encouragingly with close attention to dynamics – some finely observed pianissimos both in the introduction and also at the outset of the allegro – but for all the sound and fury the effect thereafter was oddly static. Instead of being drawn constantly forward to that electrifying moment where the coda unleashes an unstoppable tidal wave of freedom, Philippe Jordan’s persistent micro-management, constantly fussing over this or that detail, impeded the flow and drained the music of its momentum.

Simon TrpčeskiBetter was to come with the Liszt piano concerto. If one can’t have one of the really great Liszt interpreters of a past generation – such as Richter, Curzon or Arrau – then the personable Simon Trpčeski was in many ways the ideal man for the job. He relished the concerto’s technical demands, gloried in the music’s overt theatricality (extending its pauses to fine effect) and left us hanging on every note. The duet with cellist Timothy Walden had rare subtlety and finesse and the rambunctious sprint to the finishing line had real exhilaration and dash, although at this point the brass could have been more brazen. The unusual encore – a transcription of a Macedonian piece originally composed for the accordion – was shared with the Philharmonia’s excellent leader Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay.

The Brahms was a drab affair, unfortunately. Although it set off well enough with an unexaggerated f (the BBC Symphony’s John Chimes’s sensitive timpani well-embedded in the texture), some funny things then happened on the way to the Allegro as well as in the body of the movement, notably a tendency to tamper with dynamics, Jordan introducing an unmarked decrescendo in places immediately before an ff. Despite making the right noises – for instance the exposition repeat was observed – his finicky detailing vitiated any sense of line. Neither of the central movements got to grips with the music’s distinctive character, the Andante lumpen and lacking in delicacy despite distinguished solos from oboist Gordon Hunt and clarinettist Barnaby Robson, and the Allegretto excitable and weighty with little sense of its dolce serenade-like quality. The finale was ushered in by some of the most absurdly distended pizzicatos, each quaver lasting longer than the crotchet in the preceding bars. Nor was there much sense of texture – such as when the ‘big’ string tune returns (and marked largamente) and enriched by the addition of cellos – not that one would have known in this performance. Ironically, the climactic coda, during which most conductors slow up drastically for the homecoming of the chorale, was taken more or less up to speed: as Brahms tacitly requests.

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