Egmont, Op.84 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Jasminka Stancul (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris
Reviewed: 7 February, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Daniele Gatti’s reign as Music Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra spanned a decade and a half; less than three years since his departure, his rapport with the orchestra seemed curiously absent. In both Beethoven works, Gatti’s control of tempo was never in doubt, but his right-hand manipulations of phrasing and dynamics often counted for little; tellingly, the lukewarm performance of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony only caught fire once the ‘Storm’ had begun to rage and Gatti’s body-language had become more demonstrative. Beginnings were a problem, with both the symphony’s and, to a lesser extent, the Overture’s openings fluffed. Egmont’s hammer-like call to attention lacked nothing in weight of tone but it unfurled doggedly and without influence. There was nothing wrong, per se, with Gatti’s stately pace, but the lack of iron-fisted certainty left it feeling tentative.
Anyone hoping for Gatti’s ‘Pastoral’ to bring a ray of radiant spring sunshine to this bitterly cold February evening would have been disappointed. Some members of the first violins went their own way in the Symphony’s opening phrase and while the ensemble never broke down to the same degree again, for at least the first three movements it remained a merely comfortable performance, rarely venturing beyond mezzo-forte in volume. Conductor and orchestra were shaken from their malaise by the ‘Storm’, but if the aim was to craft a performance that held back until this meteorological cataclysm and the ensuing ‘Hymn of Thanksgiving’, it failed by losing interest and goodwill before the tipping point had been reached.
The highlight came in the form of Jasminka Stancul’s pristine account of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A. The Serb-born Austrian pianist had requested a Fazioli instrument, noticeably mellow in tone in comparison to the ubiquitous Steinway; maybe this contributed to the oddly nostalgic quality of her performance. Her faultless finger-work might have come off as clinical, had it not been quite so beautiful. In the Adagio, she eschewed the emotive possibilities of spinning a legato, preferring instead to emphasise rhythmic qualities. Her restraint and refinement was the polar opposite of the statement made by her electric-red satin tail-suit, but her encore, a helter-skelter Etude (the first of eight) by Boris Papandopulo, afforded her a few moments of wildness.