Philharmonia ‘safe’ programme of concert classics
opened with a pristine performance of Samuel
Barber’s Adagio for Strings – his most
popular and often-performed work. Delivered
with a profundity which lent the work even
more dignity and pathos than usual, the Philharmonia
strings wisely avoided the pitfall of saccharine
sound, and David Zinman conducted the elegiac
score with reserve and refinement.
internationally acclaimed violinist Gil Shaham
gave an extraordinarily sensitive and subtle
interpretation of Sir Edward Elgar’s Violin
Concerto in B minor, Op. 61. His purity
of tone and poetic phrasing were reminiscent
of the celebrated recording made by the 16
year old Menuhin under the direction of the
Allegro, Shaham’s assured playing allowed
the music to glow and flow with seemingly
effortless ease: the notes were crisply delivered,
devoid of slurring. Zinman was a perfect,
intuitive partner for his soloist and produced
expressive, dramatic playing from his forces,
particularly from the visceral brass. There
was a wonderful vulnerability, almost shyness
in his playing of the Andante, as if
he was reluctant to let go of the notes, his
cool reserve making the music sound all the
more poignant; again the Philharmonia accompanied
him with sensitive and alert playing.
opening passages of the Allegro molto,
he switched mood dramatically, playing with
an elegant muscularity, giving the notes a
refreshing ruggedness, his body movements
seeming to hurl the notes at the rapt audience.
In the scintillating cadenza, the Philharmonia
strings’ pizzicato tremolando served
as a carpet of fluttering butterfly wings
for Gilman’s glittering, razor-sharp tone
which sounded like shards of silver light:
this was simply sublime playing from both
soloist and orchestra.
gave a dramatically taut and perfectly structured
interpretation of Brahms’ Symphony
No.1 in C minor, Op.68. It is very rare
to hear such a disciplined performance of
this highly emotive, quasi-romantic score,
which does tend to bring out the worst of
conductors’ whimsical mannerisms, speeding
up and slowing down tempi to make effect.
Zinman, however, kept a tight control, rigorously
judging the tempi from beginning to end.
opening was solid and stern, with Andrew Smith’s
timpani having weight and authority (as was
the case throughout). But Zinman did not emphasise
architecture at the expense of drama, coaxing
the Philharmonia to play with great verve
and urgency, creating an exciting nervous
tension. The orchestral textures were perfectly
balanced with all the players shining through.
Andante sostenuto was conducted with
fluent buoyancy, with warmly focused woodwind
sensitively floated in a sea of mellow strings,
whose pizzicato opening of the Adagio
closing movement had a distilled eeriness.
From here on Zinman’s rock steady tempi and
unerring control gave the music a sense of
noble grandeur, with the closing passages
having a particularly powerful and direct
intensity. This strong, direct performance
was reminiscent of Toscanini’s 1952 Philharmonia
RFH performance with its total grasp of the
score’s structure and dynamic.
seems to be a perfect partner for the Philharmonia,
who applauded him as warmly as the audience