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Berlioz, Dvořák and Mussorgsky/Ravel: Mischa Maisky (cello), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Diego Matheuz, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 17.1.2011 (BBr)


Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture, op.9 (1844)
Dvořák: Cello Concerto in B minor, op.104 (1895)

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) – orchestrated by Ravel (1922)


With Charles Dutoit indisposed, we were offered a new conductor and a change of programme. Only 26 years old, Diego Matheuz started his conducting studies as recently as 2005 and has already achieved some success. Roman Carnival Overture began very well, with a real swagger, and the ensuing slow section, graced with Leila Ward’s marvellous cor anglais – she is such an asset to this orchestra – started well but somewhere along the way, tension slipped and the performance lost focus. With the return of the fast music things perked up but, once again, there was a loss of momentum before everything came together for the big finish.


Mischa Maisky dominated this performance of Dvořák’s Concerto, as well he might, for he is a big player, and this was an inspirational performance with Maisky throwing all caution to the wind and launching into a freely romantic interpretation, where spirit and passion were the hallmarks of his playing. This was an exciting performance from the soloist, but towards the end I felt that Matheuz didn’t have a firm grasp of the music and this led to a feeling of dullness and indifference. Clio Gould was excellent in the duo with the cello just before the coda but even so, as a whole the performance didn’t really work. Although certainly not leaden-footed, the performance simply failed to engage with the flights of fancy which fill this work.


Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition was treated as a Concerto for Orchestra and I can honestly say that I have never heard it this way before. To be sure, it’s always a technicolour experience, but never quite as soloistic as this, so much so that I found myself thinking about the solo contributions rather than the work as a whole. But this is no bad thing for Ravel has given his orchestra the opportunity to shine and tonight the RPO was going to do just that, and they revelled in the chance. Trumpeter Brian Thomson was a fine guide in the opening Promenade while Martin Robertson’s sweet voiced saxophone was perfectly placed in The Old Castle. The Children at play in the Tuileries Gardens brought some lovely skittering woodwind and Becky Smith’s euphonium described the lumbering ox cart of Bydlo to perfection. Samuel Goldenburg and Schmuyle brought Brian Thomson to the fore once again, in a staggering piece of virtuosity, while Catacombs brought some of the richest and most sonorous brass sounds of the night; the continuation, With the Dead in the Language of the Dead, contained some beautifully quiet playing, the music full of mystery and with shimmering textures from the strings. Because of this, Matt Perry’s timpani playing was all the more frightening and overwhelming in Baba Yaga. The Great Gate of Kiev was resplendent and made a fine conclusion.


I talk of the orchestra for this was truly an ensemble effort and the members of the RPO really pulled together to make this a really inspiring event. As to Diego Matheuz, I cannot say how much he contributed to the performance but he didn’t get in the way, which is a compliment. However, it wasn’t quite as fine a performance as that given by this orchestra with Dutoit at the 2009 Proms. A bit of a mixed bag and not an entirely satisfying show, but it’s never easy when things have to be changed at the last minute.


Bob Briggs


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