In Memory of Sir Charles Mackerras

Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op.52
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Slavonic Dance in E minor, Op.72/2
Johann Strauss II
Die Fledermaus – Overture
Thunder and Lightning Polka
Emperor Waltz
By the Beautiful Blue Danube – Waltz
Johann Strauss I
Radetzky March

Christian Zacharias (piano)

BBC Philharmonic
Vassily Sinaisky

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 25 July, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Vassily Sinaisky. Photograph: Jesper LindgrenSir Charles Mackerras at the 2009 BBC Proms. Photograph: BBC / Chris ChristodoulouSir Charles Mackerras was scheduled to conduct this BBC Prom, which became dedicated to his memory. As a suitable tribute to him, a Dvořák piece replaced one of the advertised Johann Strauss waltzes (the lovely Where the Lemon Trees Blossom), but surely it could have been an addition to the advertised programme played complete? The performance of the Dvořák was worthy of the occasion, for despite an intonation problem that marred its final moments the playing was full of ardent emotion, alternating between heart-easing tenderness and charming impishness: a touching tribute to a great musician, whose contribution to the cause of Czech music is legendary.

The concert opened with Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale, an engaging piece that deserves to be heard much more often. Whilst the characteristically slow and veiled opening was expressively phrased, the dramatic potential of the allegro was diminished by foursquare phrasing and a lack of thrust. The Scherzo and Finale (the latter losing its exposition repeat and unbalancing the work) suffered on similar account – especially in the latter’s fugal section – but a measure of grandeur was achieved in the closing pages. Even though Schumann wrote the three movements at different stages during the course of 1841 and at first stated that they might be performed separately, by the time he published his revised version in 1843 he viewed the work as a unity. Sadly these days a substantial number of Prommers applaud at every opportunity – without discrimination or decorum.

Christian Zacharias. Photograph: Nicole Chuard-IddIntrusive applause breaks concentration, which happened again in Schumann’s Piano Concerto of which Christian Zacharias gave an unaffectedly virile reading. After a direct and dramatic opening statement, the performance was characterised by classical restraint with just the right degree of poetry – such as in the Andante espressivo section where there was also some fine clarinet-playing from John Bradbury. The cadenza was serious-minded and incisive, and Sinaisky’s alert accompaniment brought the movement to a confident close. In the Intermezzo Zacharias produced a happy blend of nimbleness and poetry, and his lightness and clarity in the finale was delightful, whereas the orchestral accompaniment was far from blemish-free.

The Strauss Family items received much less idiomatic treatment than is their due, the result often verging on the routine. One yearned for some affecting lyricism and charm. Although the start of the Emperor Waltz was unprepossessing, occasionally there were tender moments, such as Peter Dixon’s cello solo towards the close. Predictably, the Radetzky March had the audience clapping and swaying, Sinaisky entering into the party spirit (as if he had any choice!).

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