Rap­ture and calm­ness com­bined

The Daily Telegraph - - Arts - By Ivan Hewett

The mu­si­cians of the Lon­don orches­tras are amaz­ing play­ers. On Thurs­day at 6pm a group of 10 from the Phil­har­mo­nia played with su­perb as­sur­ance three blis­ter­ingly hard pieces, newly writ­ten for them by par­tic­i­pants in the Phil­har­mo­nia’s own Com­posers Academy. Ninety min­utes later they joined their col­leagues in the full or­ches­tra to play a re­as­sur­ingly main­stream pro­gramme, dom­i­nated by Beethoven.

It was an as­ton­ish­ing feat of mu­si­cal flex­i­bil­ity, ex­em­pli­fied by prin­ci­pal clar­inet­tist Mark van de Wiel. At around 6.15pm his ex­pres­sion­ist cries were pin­ning our ears back, in Michael Taplin’s Lam­bent Fires. Three hours later, he was shap­ing a grace­ful melody in Beethoven’s Pas­toral Sym­phony.

Wit­ness­ing this trans­for­ma­tion was one of the plea­sures of the evening. But there was much else to en­joy too, not least the new pieces. Each struck home in dif­fer­ent ways: Taplin’s piece by its jux­ta­po­si­tion of still­ness and move­ment, Des­mond Clarke’s Xyla by its over­lap­ping cas­cades, like mu­si­cal wa­ter­falls, and Pa­trick Jones’s Locks of

the Ap­proach­ing Storm by a cun­ningly con­trived ten­sion be­tween two neigh­bour­ing notes, only re­solved at the very end.

The main con­cert of­fered sooth­ing balm, firstly in the shape of Fra­tres by the Es­to­nian Arvo Pärt. As the or­ches­tra paced out its pa­tiently de­scend­ing cir­cu­lar tread, vi­olin­ist Zsolt-Ti­hamér Vison­tay pushed against it with ec­static soar­ing melodic lines. Rap­ture and sub­lime calm­ness were beau­ti­fully com­bined.

The calm­ness per­sisted with the open­ing phrase of Beethoven’s Fourth Pi­ano Con­certo. The won­der­ful young Ger­man pi­anist Martin Helm­chen slightly fluffed it, just be­cause he was so con­cerned to shape it ex­actly right. His per­for­mance was in many ways ex­em­plary, par­tic­u­larly in the slow move­ment. If he could just have re­laxed a lit­tle and not over-fi­nessed ev­ery phrase, it would have been wholly won­der­ful. In the per­for­mance of Beethoven’s

Pas­toral Sym­phony that fol­lowed, con­duc­tor Christophe von Dohnányi demon­strated the art of re­laxed mas­tery. His first ges­ture re­vealed it, by launch­ing the piece in an ur­gent way. It gave en­ergy to all the lovely spa­cious­ness that fol­lowed; a small thing, but a telling one.

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