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Mozart, Berg, R. Strauss: Viktoria Mullova (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra/Philippe Jordan, QEH, 26.3. 2006 (CC)

Philippe Jordan has an impressive CV, citing his Principal Guest Conductorship of the Berlin Staatsoper, his assistantship to Jeffery Tate for a Ring at Paris and a string of prestigious operatic engagements. Not too much about orchestral work, though.

Mozart's 39th Symphony took up the whole first half (32 minutes). It was the kind of performance that mirrored the weather – lukewarm, rather gray and altogether uninspiring. Some unnecessary point-making with tempo in the first movement led to a slow movement blessed with variable ensemble and a real sense of the routine. Low on charm as well as involvement, it was the sort of account that makes one pine for the Sunday afternoon Eastenders omnibus. Character was at a minimum – the clarinetist for the Trio of the Menuetto was wearing distinctly English-branded Lederhosen while the finale tried to raise itself from the dead and just missed, mainly due to sluggish acciaccaturas. This was certainly not the Philharmonia I know and love – do they hate the QEH that much? Or was it Jordan? Or both?

Post-interval, Viktoria Mullova gave an account of the Berg Violin Concerto that lived up to her reputation as an ice-maiden. Superb harmonics, a jaw-dropping stratospheric last note and some lovely quasi-improvised spiccato playing were balanced by moments when one just wished she would open up. And maybe she would if she there was a decent conductor around her. Jordan's grasp of the Haupstimmen and Nebenstimmen that Berg marks seemed tenuous to say the least. So much of the accompaniment was a nondescript mush, or messy, or both.

So what was worse? Mullova's one moment of madness – attempting a page-turn with her left hand while playing the open strings with her bow (funnily enough all was not well here) or Jordan's almost tangible lack of interest in one of the most beautiful scores of the previous century? The woodwind chorale was merely acceptable (no hint of an organ-invocation) and the only really positive thing I can find to say is that the Hauptrhythmus made some sort of an emotional impact.

Finally, Rosenkavalier Suite, and some clue as to what was going on. For two thirds of the programme a fish out of water, Jordan's operatic history clearly came into use here, as the unanimous swagger of the Philharmonia horns marked an orchestral awakening. Delicacy and character both made appearances; Waltzes were tinged with silver and at one point the music almost glowed – just as the very end was almost outrageous. In fact, it was almost a performance, a good deal more than can be said certainly for the Mozart and in all honesty for the Berg as well.

Colin Clarke




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