Philharmonia Pletnev Jansen

The Bard, Op.64
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

Janine Jansen (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 6 February, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Mikhail Pletnev is an inspirational maverick both as a pianist and a conductor. He is unpredictable. His approach to Sibelius’s rarely performed The Bard lacked atmosphere, the harp glissandi were too loud and the strings didn’t have the bleak melancholic edge which is an essential part of Sibelius’s soundworld. The violins would have benefited from being antiphonal so as to delineate Sibelius’s divisi effects.

In Sibelius’s Violin Concerto the young Dutch violinist Janine Jansen brought some less than secure intonation to the rhapsodic opening and also tone that was small if intense. Certainly the tempo was Allegro moderato, as marked, but Jansen needed more edge to her phrasing and tone and a greater sense of dynamic and rhythmic nuance. She did a lot of swaying around but when you closed your eyes the performance lacked expressive variation; however, to her credit, unlike so many young string players, she did use vibrato and portamento, and the insecure intonation didn’t recur.

The Adagio was broad but not really ‘sung’; again the expression was generalised and here there was a technical problem which had been hinted at in the first movement – in that when Jansen wanted to play very softly the bowing lost precision and the sound became fluttery. The finale had real bounce if, again, a lack of edge and attack. Pletnev and the Philharmonia gave a sensitive and sometimes powerful account of the accompaniment, but the strings had been reduced so as not to swamp the soloist. I have heard, amongst others, Accardo, Kennedy, Perlman and Vengerov perform this work and no such concession was needed. Nevertheless, if Jansen can pay more attention to detail and vary her tone, she may in a few years produce a memorable account.

Pletnev has already made a fine recording of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony (DG 439 888-2). The Largo introduction was quite fast, but Pletnev moulded the string phrases in a way that only a Russian can, being delineated and rising and falling in a totally idiomatic manner. In the Allegro the orchestra surged forward with dark brass and woodwinds – the movement never became fragmentary. The scherzo was fast and rhythmically pointed; Pletnev relaxed for the luxuriant second theme, with phrasing marvellously sculpted and with no slackening of tension. The central processional and the merging of the first and second themes had driving power and rhythm – the Philharmonia’s ensemble was immaculate.

I suppose the flowing tempo for the Adagio and the lack of indulgence in the clarinet solo might have disappointed some, but Pletnev’s conception had a sense of blazing passionate intensity that carried all before it. Exactly the same could be said of the finale, the tempos – including the second subject – were fast and there was a tremendous sense of attack. Some performances of this movement do produce longeurs, but that never happened here and this was a fitting conclusion to a great performance. The Philharmonia played superbly for Pletnev.

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