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S & H Concert Review

Kodály, Tchaikovsky, Dvorák Barry Douglas (piano); London Philahrmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras. RFH, January 22nd, 2003 (CC)

A great deal of mutual respect obviously exists between Mackerras and the LPO. This was evident right from the beginning of this concert, with a well-characterized account of Kodály's 'Háry János' Suite. The Prelude (subtitled, 'The Fairytale begins') was intense, with a truly organic feel to the musical argument. Kodály's glittering orchestration was a delight throughout and it was plainly (aurally) obvious that the players were enjoying themselves, particularly in the cimbalom-perfumed 'Intermezzo' and in the parody elements of 'Battle and Defeat of Napoleon'.

Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto provided the contrast, gestures now appearing on a vastly inflated scale. It was interesting to hear Tchaikovsky Competition Gold Medallist of 1986, Barry Douglas, again. In the past, he has seemed to be technically blessed from the Heavens, but often stolid and even unmusical in delivery. It seems that a reconciliation between technique and musicality is on the cards, however, with Douglas often moving towards the musical end of the axis. Only the opening really did not bode well, the orchestra providing plenty of passion for the famous melody, with Douglas merely plonking out his chords. Later, he was much more sensitive (especially in the second movement, where the initial theme was remarkably understated), and his risk-taking in the first movement cadenza was exciting. Curiously, the main problem was with some (vital) notes not 'speaking,' indicating a lack of familiarity with his piano (he also spent some time before playing working on a maladjusted piano stool, much to the amusement of the audience: had he actually played on this particular instrument before he walked on stage?) There was, however, plenty of energy from both soloist and orchestra in the finale (and I would happily commit an unseemly act for Douglas' double octaves at the end).

The highlight of the evening, however, was reserved for Mackerras' interpretation of Dvorák's Seventh Symphony. The emphasis of the first movement was on structure, underpinned by a firm and resolute rhythmic momentum. This meant that there was little tempo let-up: instead, the impression given was one of fierce determination. The many lovely woodwind solos, the varied emotions of the second movement and the rustic swing of the third provided the necessary contrast to the rhythmic drive of the finale, which Mackerras imbued with a powerful thrust. A very special performance indeed, crowning a highly enjoyable concert.

Colin Clarke

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