Philharmonia/Philippe Jordan Viktoria Mullova

Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Violin Concerto (‘to the memory of an angel’)
Der Rosenkavalier – Suite

Viktoria Mullova (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Philippe Jordan

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 26 March, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Currently conducting “Eugene Onegin” for Royal Opera, Philippe Jordan brought high-octane energy to this concert, a matinee that attracted a gratifyingly large number of children.

Like Karajan, Jordan’s career started at Ulm’s Stadttheater – but that is perhaps the only similarity. Jordan’s excitable and demonstrative style of conducting – he has a crouch worthy of a prize-fighter – is a world away from the older conductor. What both share is the ability to get an orchestra to pay attention and respond; there is no doubting Jordan’s control.

With a substantial string band but non-antiphonal violins, the Mozart symphony was a good middle-of-the-road performance with all repeats observed (including both halves of the finale). Especially satisfying were the slightly understated Minuet and the fizzing finale in which Jordan’s theatrical flair worked wonders. In the first movement there were moments of undue agogic distortion which were too calculated.

After the interval, Berg and Strauss were paired: in theory a good idea, and which should have been instructive; in practice the concerto was rather submerged. Viktoria Mullova is especially well suited to Berg’s music, her technical security and chamber-music instincts chiming well with what – despite its angst-ridden climaxes – is frequently intimate music. (The ‘angel’ that Berg memorialised is Manon Gropius, the daughter of Mahler’s widow, Alma, and Walter Gropius.) The opening Andante was taken swiftly and elided into a similarly on-going Allegretto; this was a performance which played up the music’s Mahlerian origins even if it missed some of the sinister aspects. Mullova gave an account of the cadenza that was astonishingly assured and she brought serenely authoritative playing at the work’s close. The Philharmonia’s brass played with impressive unanimity, delivering the necessary knock-out blows at the work’s emotional climax.

The Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier” was driven hard and given a raucous rendition. A degree of understatement, especially in the confined spaces of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, would have been welcome, but this was a full-on if meticulous performance, unduly coarse and lacking that deeper affection which can make Strauss’s manipulative souvenir of his opera more palatable. The Philharmonia played splendidly, however, and with notably fine violin solos from the melodiously-named guest leader Melina Mandozzi.

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