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Nicolai, Saint-Saëns and Dvorák: Boris Giltburg (piano), Philharmonia Orchestra, Joji Hattori, Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Centre, Londoin, 3.3.2011 (BBr)


Nicolai: Overture, The Merry Wives of Windsor (!849)
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, op.22 (1868)
Dvorák: Symphony No.9 in E minor, From the New World, op.95 (1892/1893)


Getting things off to a jolly start, and with a broad smile on his face, Hattori directed a fun–filled performance of Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor Overture which set the scene, perfectly, for what was to follow – a dramatic and tense account of Saint-Saëns’s ever popular Second Piano Concerto. We’re used to this work being all froth and delight, but tonight Giltburg took the bull by the horns and gave us a performance in the grand romantic manner, playing it as if this was a Liszt concerto, full of grand bravura and sparkling pyrotechnics. The first movement, usually seen as an homage to Bach was here wild and dramatic in true 19th century cavalier manner, the orchestra being more involved than is usual, joining the soloist in the argument instead of simply offering the occasional comment. Whilst the scherzo was somewhat too serious, and lacked real charm, the finale was fire and spectacle. This was a marvellous performance which proved what many of us already know – that Saint-Saëns is an important composer who should be taken more seriously than he currently is.

After the interval Hattori gave a thrilling, and sometimes disturbing and disturbed, performance of the New World Symphony. Starting with a deceptively non–commital approach to the slow introduction drama soon took centre stage and the allegro was forceful and full of power. In spite of this, Hattori never lost sight of the lighter moments, and often highlighted the dance-like episodes. Also, the music, and thus the performance, gained from having the exposition repeated. The celebrated slow movement contained some exquisite pianissimo and a big climax which Hattori didn’t allow to overpower the surrounding music. A brisk scherzo, with suitably naïve trio, was succeeded by a finale which capped the work in a blazed of agonised glory. Despite one or two moments of questionable rubato, this was a very fine performance indeed which was blessed with some excellent playing from the Philharmonia.

Bob Briggs


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