Sunday, 16 November 2014

Light and dark

Haydn, Elgar and Nielsen (Philharmonia, De Montfort Hall, cond. by ), 12th November
The second of the Philharmonia’s concerts provided some much needed joy on a winter’s evening. It started with Haydn’s 27th “The Bear”. It is extraordinary just how many symphonies Haydn wrote: 104 my friend advised me. That’s a lot, and listening to them all would be a major undertaking. Two a week and it would take a full year. This took about twenty minutes to get going, when there was a sort of folk-dance thing going on, but I couldn’t say much other than a highly-competent rendering of a fairly unexceptional piece. I probably need a greater understanding and appreciation of his symphonies, and this is just about enough to tempt me to contemplate a serious attempt – perhaps as a New Year’s resolution. But the same effort given to a close listening of Maher, say, might yield greater satisfaction. Yet, light and relatively inoffensive, this was a consummate performance even if I doubt anyone really felt anything.

The same might not be said of Elgar’s cello concerto, which was given heartfelt rendition by a wonderful cellist. Steven Isserlis gave quite a performance – and seemed to succumb to the first movement almost immediately. The darker mood here contrasted with the lighter feel of the pieces before and after it.

After the interval, Nielsen’s first. I knew nothing about him or his music. This was a tense work which couldn’t be accused of being ornamental. It was apparent that this was a first-rate performance of a second-rate piece.  And it was great to hear less common music almost the usually quite conservative selection taken this far north by the Philharmonia. Fr all three pieces Paavo Järvi kept the orchestra on a tight leash. I wonder if not too tight at time.

Overall: an interesting programme.

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