Mendelssohn, Schumann, Schubert (Philharmonia cond. Jérémie Rhorer)
There was an Italian theme to last night’s Philharmonia, the final one of the season. It began with Mendelssohn’s overture A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was a nice short piece and warmed up the orchestra. It was a powerful evocation of
Francesco Piemontesi’s Schumann Piano Concerto was for the main part competent, even if restrained, perhaps lacking dynamism; most importantly, in the second- movement Piemontesi seemed slightly behind the orchestra (or the orchestra was ahead of him). So it jarred very slightly, to be honest – something slightly off about it.
After the interval, Schubert’s Italian overture (D590) was very good, but it was in Mendelssohn’s fourth, ‘Italian’ which the orchestra shone. The fourth movement ‘Saltarello: Presto’ paid homage to the folk cure for a tarantula bite: keeping the victim in perpetual motion. From this arose leaping dances. And it is hard to think of more thrilling music. (Steinberg even suggests musicians roamed the countryside in hope of employment in fending off poison). The orchestration is far from enormous (strings plus 2x flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, and timpani. Stings dominate this, and I could well imagine an ambitious chamber orchestra tackle it. Despite the modest size, it packed a real punch, and it made a wonderful end to the season.