Philharmonia Orchestra/Temirkanov Sakaya Shoji: Tchaikovsky & Prokofiev – 2

Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture [Revised Version]
Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.63
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36

Sakaya Shoji (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 27 June, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Yuri TemirkanovThis was the second of three Royal Festival Hall Philharmonia Orchestra concerts conducted by Yuri Temirkanov and featuring works by the two of the most popular Russian composers. The evening started promisingly with a lucid and spacious account of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet (played in the familiar revised version), which although taken at a slowish pace (almost 21 minutes here) never dragged and was well shaped. There was a certain amount of restraint here, the love theme’s initial appearance tenderly played by the cor anglais but there was ardour and passion aplenty when taken up by the strings. Plenty of Tchaikovskian intensity from the brass at the climax made for a very satisfying reading.

Sakaya Shoji. Photograph: Balazs BoroszSadly Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2 never really took flight. Sakaya Shoji has a secure technique, the rippling passagework of the first movement holding no fears, barely a note out of place. If a degree of technique had been sacrificed for a tad more expression then results would have been more enjoyable, but in the end this was a rather unvaried and routine performance, the work’s sense of disquiet totally bypassed. Shoji wasn’t helped by Temirkanov’s lethargic conducting, most apparent in the castanet-coloured dances of the finale, which remained resolutely earthbound.

Sleepy horns ushered in the ‘Fate’ fanfare at the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth symphony. Not a good omen and so it proved to be. Temirkanov’s tendency to adopt uneven tempos played havoc with the shape of the first movement, robbing it of urgency and tragic inevitability. There was plenty of excitement generated before the final outbursts but by then all momentum had been lost. More of this idiosyncratic approach marred the Andantino – after a beautifully phrased oboe solo from Christopher Cowie, the lovely string melody which follows was curiously deformed and interrupted the rhythmic flow. Only in the scherzo did things start to improve with delightfully nimble pizzicatos and a real air of joy from the woodwinds in the rollicking peasant song. The finale was thrillingly fast and controlled, the Philharmonia at last coming alive. Rich strings and brass, which at last developed some bite in the return of the ‘Fate’ motif, brought the symphony to a rousing conclusion.

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