Philharmonia/Rozhdestvensky – 5 December

Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Op.43 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)
Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93

Murray Perahia (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 5 December, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky is a real character. He may be likened to a magician pulling rabbits from a hat. His long, expressive baton, his alternating stern and smiling face, with much quizzical expression in between, and his nod-and-wink encouragement can backfire. If, however, the orchestra is as agreeable and as seasoned as the Philharmonia then much enjoyment should ensue. It did.

Although Rozhdestvensky offered a sprightly and decorous accompaniment for Murray Perahia’s characteristic musicianship, this ’Emperor’ didn’t quite add up. It couldn’t have got off to a better start with Perahia dispatching the opening cadenzas fearlessly; then Rozhdestvensky offered a majestic, serene even, orchestral exposition. Thereafter, one or two tempo lurches, a couple of surprising moments when Perahia was non-accommodating of the orchestra, and the increasing predictability of his pellucid intimacy, however beguiling, didn’t sustain attention. Nor Perahia’s more-recently-found powerhouse approach. While gruff rhetoric is appropriate in Beethoven, Perahia never sounds entirely at home with such demonstration. A poised and eloquent veneer sometimes hid the heroic grain of this music, the ear deflected to more candid epigrams in the orchestra.

The first half’s overture and symphony gave unalloyed pleasure. Rozhdestvensky likes to take his time and relish musical partials. He opened the ballet overture quite solemnly and with great expression before cantering through the allegro in the most delightfully light-footed way. The symphony was equally urbane. Just twenty-four hours earlier, I had heard Colin Davis conduct a living and loving account of it. Although their tempi were quite similar – that is with little truck to the metronome markings and no historical ’conscience’ – Rozhdestvensky emphasised the work’s machine-like connection of ideas. His aural exposing of ropes and pulleys – best epitomised by the dissection and gambol of the ’Finale’ – and a range from gossamer to gawky brought smiles and a salient reminder that music is rather more than the noise it makes. In contrast was the unashamed richness of the ’Minuet’ (a nostalgic return to pre-scherzo times) – all chandeliers and ball-gowns here. Rozhdestvensky’s sense of fun and his individuality will hopefully find him back with the Philharmonia soon.

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