February 21st, 2015
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London
Despite really enjoying Beethoven, I had a few reservations about last night’s concert being an all-Beethoven affair. I though the performance was sparkling and full of energy, no question about it. Marin Alsop is a striking conducting force, and showed a deep understanding for Beethoven’s works and style. She presided over the podium with an intensity of focus that spurred the London Philharmonic Orchestra to some stunning music.
Opening with the overture to Leonore No. 3, the woodwind played with keen ensemble and sense of colour. However, the balance between strings and the rest of the orchestra was not good in the balcony – every time the brass entered they were drowned out entirely. David Fray’s performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was refined and well-crafted. His second-movement phrasing was particularly graceful, though there was a tendency to be rather heavy in the fast movements.
Finally came the triumphal Symphony No. 7, which the orchestra played with passion and zeal. Alsop always sat on the faster side of the tempo, pushing the music still faster in the final measures of the Allegro con Brio. By contrast, the second movement Allegretto returned to the minor sound world of the piano concerto, lending weight and rich instrumental colours to its memorable melodies.
Wednesday 19th November, Royal Festival Hall, London
Under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the London Philharmonic Orchestra last night presented a dazzling and touching program of orchestral favourites. Opening with Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 seemed somewhat unusual – a short orchestral piece might have been preferable before being launched into the full 50-minute concerto – but was a technically astute and musically assured performance on the part of soloist Lars Vogt. Exaggerated left hand flourishes aside, he is a compelling pianist, pushing the second movement scherzo to a brisk tempo and easily matching the orchestral forces. While special mention must be given to the excellent playing of principal cellist Kristina Blaumane in the Andante movement, the orchestra seemed on the whole to still be getting going. Colourful playing in the strings was occasionally marred by intonation troubles in the winds, and dynamic swells in the final movement in particular could have been greater to match Vogt’s stormy performance.
After interval, however, the orchestra came into their own with Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished) and R. Strauss’s Don Juan. Nézet-Séguin directed the Schubert with the ease of an old friend, caressing the well-known opening melody and allowing for a comfortable ebb and flow of the music. Here, principal winds came into their own, tossing melodic lines back and forth in the hall’s excellent acoustics. The Strauss, something of an showpiece, was performed with full forces and plenty of excitement. An excellent horn section, coupled with Nézet-Séguin’s brisk tempos, made for a rendition that seemed as much fun for those on stage as in the audience!
I’m writing this short post more because, at day 50, I don’t want to break my continuous streak! We’ve just arrived home after a long day, and I’m quite ready for bed. During the daytime, pianist Juliet Edwards came down to Hastingleigh to give us a flute and piano masterclass, which was great fun and very rewarding. Then we headed up to London for a performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall.
More on both tomorrow!