The Sunday Telegraph

A delicate farewell from a committed introvert

Esa-Pekka Salonen/ Philharmon­ia Orchestra Royal Festival Hall, London SE1

- By Ivan Hewett No further performanc­es

On Thursday night, at the Royal Festival Hall, Esa-Pekka Salonen led his “swansong” concert as principal conductor of the Philharmon­ia. It was a muted, introverte­d affair, fascinatin­g in many ways, but hardly celebrator­y. In that respect, it was a perfect reflection of the man himself, who has always seemed wrapped in solitude.

The first piece was an affectiona­te nod to one of Salonen’s great predecesso­rs at the Philharmon­ia, Otto Klemperer. For a few minutes, we were immersed in the consoling beauty of Klemperer’s arrangemen­t of the aria ‘Bist du bei mir’ (You are with me), by the little-known German Baroque que composer Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel. zel. It was played with exquisite, uisite, hushed tenderness.

The he atmosphere of porcelain delicacy acy persisted through two Bach arrangemen­ts – but t stripped of that tender er mood, because use these were by modernist composers. posers. Anton Webern’s ern’s arrangemen­t ngement of the ‘Ricercar Ricercar a 6’ from om The Musical ical Offering was played by the Philharmon­ia harmonia and

Salonen nen with delightful rhythmic hmic flexibilit­y.

Luciano ano Berio’s arrangemen­t of the monumental, unfinished fugue from Bach’s Art of Fugue was similarly prismatic. At the end, it dispersed into a cloud of modernist harmony, as if Bach’s spirit had been wafted up to the stars.

So far, so sublime. Then came the Prelude from Bach’s Partita No 3 for solo violin, beautifull­y played by the orchestra’s leader Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, followed without a pause by Salonen’s own Fog, inspired by the same piece but named after the architect Frank O Gehry, who designed the Los Angeles Philharmon­ic’s new concert hall. It seized our attention with a mood of solemnly glittering Orientalis­m – but after that promising opening, the piece meandered through reminiscen­ces of Bach in ways that were aurally seductive yet lacking in direction.

Finally, Salonen and the orchestra were joined by the tiny but doughty pianist Mitsuko Uchida, a regular sparring partner in Salonen’s early career, for Beethoven’s great Piano Concerto No 3. She brought a rhythmic poise and grace to the piece; it was positively balletic, and a fine ending to Salonen’s farewell. But the most moving part of the even evening was right at the beginning, when the conductor spoke in praise of the orchestra he has led for t the past 13 years. That partnershi­p has be been hugely enrichin enriching to London’s musi musical life, and it wa was good to learn that, though Salonen has relinquish­ed the title, he’s not leaving the orchestra. He He’ll

be back.

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