Sir Charles Mackerras is one the
world’s leading exponents of Czech music, particularly Janacek and Dvorak.
He opened his programme with Dvorak’s underrated Otello Overture
– which forms a triptych with In Nature’s Realm and Carnival
Overture. His reading was beautifully measured, marrying the lyrical
with the dramatic. The opening passages had subdued string playing which
created a tense nervous atmosphere prefiguring the tragedy to come.
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto
Number 1 is one of the most frequently performed works in the Philharmonia’s
somewhat conservative repertoire: I reviewed it last November with Boris
Berezovsky under Pletnev and it will turn up again on the opening night
of their 2003/04 season with Yefim Bronfman under Ashkenazy on 30th
Nikolai Lugansky’s refined, reserved
and elegant playing emphasised the hidden musicality of this excessively
rhetorical concerto. In the first movement the most daunting virtuoso
passages were played with precision, clarity and elan allowing us to
hear the minutest details and nuances even when playing at full-thrust.
His playing of the Andantino semplice was subtle, melodic and
lyrical, beautifully embellished by clarion calls from the woodwind.
Mackerras’ sympathetic accompaniment,
particularly in the passionate climactic tutti passages, was as usual
exemplary, and the overall impression was of hearing this familiar work
anew, so fresh was his approach.
unbelievable precision and
Brahms’ Third Symphony is not
only the most seldom performed of his four symphonies but also the most
difficult to conduct. However, in Mackerras’ hands the symphony was
given a ‘classical’ performance, and the arbitrary tempo changes to
which this score lends itself were not evident. What gave this performance
weight and depth were the (for once) audible double basses, which were
strategically placed along the platform.
The first movement had great verve
and attack with the conductor getting the crosscutting rhythms between
‘cellos and violins perfectly in sync, in part because he divided his
violins antiphonally. Mackerras changed the palette for both the Andante
and Pocco allegreto, eliciting an even deeper string tone and
making both movements flow with buoyant urgency while still floating
in a haze of melancholia; again the music never dragged or fell apart.
The closing Allegro took
on the frenzy of the first movement, with the brass having a strong
cutting edge, and the closing serene passages were perfectly paced dissolving
the music into reflective oblivion. Mackerras blended all four movements
into an organic whole, making the music flow naturally from beginning
to end as if composed in one movement.
This paradigm performance was
on a par with Otto Klemperer’s legendary Philadelphia Orchestra account
(Academy of Music, 27th October 1962) with its emphasis on
structure, tone and dynamic range. Maybe Mackerras can follow Klemperer’s
example and give us a Brahms’ Symphony cycle with the Philharmonia Orchestra?