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Richard Strauss, Mozart and Beethoven: Piotr Anderszewski (piano), Philharmonia Orchestra, Philippe Jordan, Royal Festival Hall, London, 29.10.2009 (BBr)

Richard Strauss: Don Juan, op.20 (1888)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No.18 in B flat, K456 (1784)
Beethoven: Symphony No.7 in A, op.92 (1812)

Jordan gave a splendid interpretation of Don Juan tonight, revealing many strands within the music which I’d never heard before. The playing was wild and passionate, with some gorgeous love music and French Horns rampant. The great lover has probably never been so well served by an English orchestra - a fantastic, and very enjoyable, way to begin a concert.

Mozart’s Concerto was a nice choice to follow Strauss, knowing the latter’s devotion to the former. Jordan scaled his string section down, to balance the wind group of eight – 2 each of flutes, oboes, bassoons and horns – and the resulting sound was full, but still Mozartean, never approaching the romantic, which can so often happen, no matter how hard a conductor tries not to allow it. The opening tutti was perfectly paced, just the right amount of humour and bounce and Anderszewski matched this perfectly from his first entry. This was a lovely performance from all concerned, completely in style, never overplayed and wholly delightful. The slow movement variations were held in check, while the finale simply bubbled over with high jinks. This was, indeed, a winning performance.

After the interval we had Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, the apotheosis of the dance, as Wagner had it, but, unfortunately not as Jordan wanted it. The opening sostenuto was far too fast and insufficiently sostenuto, and there was little variety between the introduction and the allegro, which was graced with a repeat of the exposition. The allegretto was excellent, exactly the right tempo, perfect phrasing and, at times, a pianissimo of breathtaking stillness. Both scherzo (which included the second repeat ) and finale were rushed to the point of the music seeming to be winded. Jordan used a big orchestra – I have no problem with that – and the sound it made was stunning, but the interpretation was not to my liking. This is a work which sings and dances, is full of boyish pranks and, as Elgar might have said, jests and japes. But this perfomance was all far too serious and high powered; we needed more of Huckleberry Finn’s brand of anarchy and less of the angst of Young Werther.

Bob Briggs

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