The Nutcracker Suite, Op.71a
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op.33
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
Guy Johnston (cello)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 28 May, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
On the face of it this might appear to be just another Tchaikovsky concert, the sort that used to be popular at the Royal Albert Hall on a Sunday evening. The omens were good, though, before the evening started – when noticing that the violins would be laid out antiphonally and the double basses would form a line across the back of the platform. Such an arrangement produced remarkable results from Tchaikovsky’s vivid orchestration, particularly in the Fifth Symphony. And the Suite from “The Nutcracker” invited a luminous quality in the sound, which appeared from the very first bar. Daniele Gatti showed he possesses a discerning ear for achieving a wonderful blend of timbres, is careful with ‘hairpin’ dynamics, and allows individual players full rein to their own artistry. Throughout the evening his conducting style proved that ‘less is more’ and it was refreshing to witness such relative restraint achieving maximum results from the RPO – the orchestra was on top form.
It was splendid to hear Guy Johnston, a prize-winning cellist now beginning to establish a reputation. He is not a flamboyant player and produced a warm tone at all dynamic levels, including mere whispers, in this fine account of the Rococo Variations.
Tchaikovsky 5 now needs special pleading given the frequency with which it is heard in London. Gatti and his marvellous players did just that. This was a view that illuminated the heart of the work – sentimentality replaced by an implacable thrust towards an end goal of salvation. Hence the opening ‘fate’ theme did not dawdle; rather Gatti set a brisk, no-nonsense tempo that held the attention into the main body of the movement, which was both explosive and tender in turns. He balanced the instruments brilliantly to allow copious detail in all movements; for instance, the coda to the slow movement was wonderfully beautiful because the woodwinds blended their separate lines into a homogeneous unit, both soft and reflective.
Gatti has this ability to lift a familiar score above expectations and in the finale his fast pace, after the introduction, led to playing of white-hot intensity. But it was never hectic or aimed at the gallery; this was a reading of the utmost integrity that seemed to arrive at the essence of this music: triumph over adversity and with no falsehoods or self-seeking display. Put simply, this is the best Tchaikovsky 5 I have ever heard.