Royal Philharmonic Mozart & Mahler

Le nozze di Figaro – Overture
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491
Symphony No.5

Elisso Virsaladze (piano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 27 April, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Filling the Royal Albert Hall is no easy matter. Its capacity is considerably more than the Barbican Hall and the Royal Festival Hall (as was or as will be!). So the large audience that assembled for this concert will have delighted the Royal Philharmonic. A shame, though, about the minority ‘element’ that applauded after virtually every movement; it was bad enough to destroy the atmosphere of Mozart’s Larghetto (K491), but those who clapped after Mahler’s (“Death in Venice”) Adagietto showed breath-taking insensitivity. Such a vacuous response is wholly unacceptable. Thus Mahler’s attacca into the finale was delayed, and, as it was, the horn note doing so was barely audible amidst the mindless clapping.

The concert had started with a scurrying and deftly played ‘Figaro’ overture, albeit one too comfortable and too ‘quick’ for the space of the RAH. The C minor Piano Concerto was also no-nonsense in terms of tempo, and for all the stylish address of the orchestra (consistently expressive and characterful woodwinds) there was an urbanity that underplayed the music’s pathos and tragedy. Elisso Virsaladze was an understated soloist, perfectly in tune with Mozartean grace but rarely establishing the darker side to this work. Furthermore the resonance of the RAH demands that more time be given to turning corners; here there was a blurring of detail and a unintended overlapping of phrases.

Mahler’s ubiquitous Fifth Symphony was inconsistent. It was well-prepared and well-played (the opening trumpet solo and the horn’s contribution in the scherzo being notable) but lacked the last (and crucial) degree of involvement; partly Temirkanov’s dispassionate if unfazed conducting and partly (maybe) that this music is now all too familiar. The scherzo, measured in tempo, raised the stakes somewhat, with some shadows appearing in the dance. The Adagietto was the highlight; beautifully played by the RPO’s strings (unfortunately the violins were not antiphonal), Temirkanov’s flowing tempo allowing this movement to be the love-letter (to Alma) that the composer intended rather than the ‘in memoriam’ and film soundtrack it has become. The finale impressed with the strings’ clarity of articulation (although brass, even solos, could be too dominant) and the joyful closing bars found pace and optimism in just proportion.

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