Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture after Shakespeare
Violin Concerto in G, K216
Johann Strauss II
Die Fledermaus – Overture
Kaiserwalzer [Emperor Waltz], Op.437
Der Rosenkavalier – Suite
Hilary Hahn (violin)
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 13 December, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
This was the debut concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra for Juraj Valcuha, the young Slovakian conductor whose credentials thus far are firmly rooted in the second tier of European orchestras. Perhaps this concert will be his breakthrough into the big time – although the programme did little to establish such a claim.
Beginning with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet was a safe choice in more ways than one. Orchestras play this piece in their sleep and it takes much to provide any distinguishing features in interpretation. Valcuha studied for two years in St Petersburg, which is a good sign – students there learn to connect emotionally with the music they conduct rather than learn a flashy technique. While there is nothing wrong with the grand gestures already cultivated by so young a conductor, Valcuha also displayed an excellent engagement with the orchestra throughout the concert. The trouble remains that British orchestras – currently on top form – sound the same in Tchaikovsky. Hence we heard an exciting but overly polished account.
Cultivating a “beautiful, pure tone” was something Mozart was proud to proclaim. Hilary Hahn followed Mozart’s example, at least in the last two movements; in the first, she adopted a rather fierce attack, particularly on down bows. Her choice of lengthy cadenzas in the first and second movements was somewhat questionable.
The orchestra came into its own in the second half, given over to ‘the waltz and Vienna’. The lush sounds of the Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier” are cappuccino coffee in style and content. For those that prefer their music to be more like the dark, rich flavours of espresso (as do Russians in St Petersburg), then the Tchaikovsky would have been disappointing.