This was the second programme within a few days that the late Lorin Maazel was originally scheduled to conduct with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Replacing him on this occasion was Vladimir Ashkenazy who added Scriabin’s Rêverie as a centenary tribute to the composer. Lasting just three minutes, it may be uncharacteristically brief for a creator whose other orchestral works can be expansive to a degree but it is beautifully crafted and inimitable. Ashkenazy is a notably fine exponent of Scriabin’s piano music and has the idiom at his fingertips. Rêverie was elegantly and sensitively played.
Mozart’s Violin Concerto K219 fared rather less well. Eric Silberger, a Maazel protégé and the winner of the XIV Tchaikovsky Competition, who went to Juilliard where his teachers included Glenn Dicterow (until recently the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic) and Dorothy DeLay, is nothing if not technically competent – his encore (dedicated to Maazel), an impressive outing for Paganini’s famous Caprice No.24 made that much clear – but the Mozart was unduly reverential and uningratiating, chilly with little in the way of evident affection. Perhaps given that the concert was being broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 had an inhibiting effect but one could not help the feeling that Silberger might have been better cast in one of the late-romantic Concertos. There was also an unfortunate hiatus in the finale just before the ‘Turkish’ episode; it all felt rather like a tape loop where one part went forward and the other back. Ashkenazy soon got things back on track. (It was a pity that Radio 3 presenter Katie Derham carried on talking, when silence was needed, and collided with the beginning of the Mozart! – Ed.)
Tchaikovsky’s Manfred has been a staple of the Philharmonia’s repertoire since its early days, recording it in the 1950s with Paul Kletzki and later with Riccardo Muti and Ashkenazy, and I heard a memorable performance with Maazel. Ashkenazy brings something special to Tchaikovsky’s Byron-inspired Symphony, the kind of self-evident belief in a work which brings what (in some hands) can seem unduly episodic and overlong vividly to life. One thinks of moments such as the receding con sordini horns at the close of the slow movement followed by the distant echo of the Abruzzi mountaineers’ innocent dance and the strings’ throwaway gesture, all brought into incisive focus, and during which there were some fine solo contributions, not least Gordon Hunt’s expressive and heartfelt oboe and Geremia Iezzi’s subtle horn embedded into the texture and refusing to hog the limelight. The finale’s orgy packed quite a punch, the party getting well out of hand as all such gatherings surely must, before subsiding into quiet religiosity, the Royal Festival Hall organ well integrated.
One might quibble that the flying Scherzo in which the Fairy of the Alps appears before Manfred in a waterfall beneath a rainbow (shades of Turner) could have been tidier but that would be to miss the point. Ashkenazy gets this music in a way few other conductors do, with total conviction.