Philharmonia Orchestra/Salonen Viktoria Mullova – George Benjamin, Stravinsky & Bartók

George Benjamin
Dance Figures
Violin Concerto in D
Concerto for Orchestra

Viktoria Mullova (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 4 February, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Esa-Pekka Salonen. Photograph: Nicho SödlingA concert of two twentieth-century classics together with a recent piece by George Benjamin that has already been heard in London several times. Composed six years ago and conceived as a ballet, Dance Figures comprises nine short pieces; the first six played without a break, the final three follow after a pause. The movements range from exuberant to introspective; a series of short statements which Benjamin feels is a more direct way of communicating his music and full of engaging touches. Esa-Pekka Salonen delightfully teased out luminous textures from a Philharmonia Orchestra on top form.

Viktoria Mullova. Photograph: viktoriamullova.comThe dance overtones of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto are immediately apparent (no wonder Balanchine choreographed it). More so than the Benjamin, which was created for dance! From Viktoria Mullova though, the Stravinsky lost some of its dance-like qualities in a performance that was beautifully shaped, delicately phrased but sometimes lacking bite and wit (the last movement particularly). Spacious tempos paid dividends in the slower, inner movements in which Mullova’s lyrical ‘laid back’ approach uncovered passages of real beauty. Sympathetic support from Salonen and the Philharmonia made this work very much a dialogue between soloist and orchestra with alert and characterful playing from the wind section.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra brought out playing of great refinement from the Philharmonia – from the ominous opening to the headlong rush of the close, this was an immaculately prepared and balanced performance. Again the woodwind section stood out with playing of vibrancy and colour, especially in ‘Game of Pairs’. At times, though, the playing could almost be too smooth, lacking the pungency and edge which brings Bartók’s folk-melodies to life. The death-song of the ‘Elegy’ may have cried out, but the lyrical theme of ‘Intermezzo interrotto’ could have been more idiomatic. The finale, though, played at breakneck speed, was full of wit and life and brought the performance to a rousing conclusion.

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