Royal Philharmonic/Dutoit Martha Argerich – Prokofiev

The Love for Three Oranges – Suite
Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26
Romeo and Juliet [Selections from Suites 1 & 2, Op.64a & Op.64b]

Martha Argerich (piano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Charles Dutoit

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 27 April, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Charles DutoitThe Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has now entered a new era, one with Charles Dutoit (as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor). A surprise then that selections from Prokofiev’s score for the ballet of Romeo and Juliet should feature so early, something that the RPO’s outgoing Music Director, Daniele Gatti, was no stranger to and which is too-often featured in concerts (Dutoit and the RPO have it scheduled again for the Royal Festival Hall on 3 November!).

This particular selection, lasting 40 minutes, was not the most satisfactory in design, and began with a ‘Montagues and Capulets’ that was undermined by vulgarly punctuating trombone(s) and tuba. Otherwise, there was much to admire in the groundwork, the radiant- and warm-sounding strings, the excellent solos, the discriminating dynamics and balances, and the RPO’s commitment. If the music and its performance were all a bit too familiar, that was a high-class rendition.

The original programme had offered a Berlioz overture (Le corsaire). Its removal suggested a statement of intent (which turns out to be the RPO’s Russian-music programming for the Royal Festival Hall next season). Even though the Berlioz would have added variety and been an ideal Dutoit calling-card, the Suite from Prokofiev’s surreal opera, “The Love for Three Oranges”, brought the best music of this concert and immediately displayed the RPO musicians’ quality and preparedness and Dutoit’s confidence in them – a performance that captured well the mechanistic and diabolic sides of this score; its enchantment, too, especially in ‘The Prince and the Princess’ that was played with moving sensitivity.

Martha Argerich. © Yu K Martha Argerich has lost none of her fabulous technique and strolled through Piano Concerto No.3 with nonchalance if not indifference. Although phenomenal in one sense, Argerich’s playing, even with some delicacy, reverie and introspection (not always within her gift), could be overly dominating, simply too loud (albeit without pounding or through being egotistical), sometimes drawing attention away from more important details in the orchestra (the expansive melody in the finale being the prime example). Dutoit and the RPO stuck to Argerich with barely a dropped stitch, yet this was at times piano with orchestra rather than ‘and’. (Argerich, the RPO and Dutoit are at the BBC Proms on 30 August.)

Stealing this particular show were the two Chopin Mazurkas that Argerich played as encores, the first mercurial (enough to suggest a Sonata by Domenico Scarlatti!) and appositely elusive, the second spun as fine lace.

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