This Philharmonia Orchestra concert opened with Mendelssohn’s not-often-performed but exceptionally attractive Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. In Vladimir Ashkenazy’s beautifully moulded account, the heart-easing opening offered a palpable sense of benediction that transcended pictorial associations, and the rest of the piece, apart from being delivered with infectious brio, was notable for the exceptional playing of the woodwinds.
In Mozart’s dark and turbulent C-minor Piano Concerto Piotr Anderszewski was always a stimulating and imaginative presence: his opening entry unusually enigmatic and meditative, a mood that recurred at several points during the performance. This was especially the case in the slow movement, in which there was real profundity, and the contribution of the winds was again very special. Overall though, it has to be said that the outer movements felt less stormy than the work requires, thereby underplaying the Concerto’s powerful contrasts. As an encore Anderszewski offered a reflective and finely nuanced account of the first (in G-major) of Beethoven’s Opus 126 Bagatelles.
The concert closed with that perennial favourite, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, which brought its composer instant international fame. Ashkenazy clearly loves the piece – evidenced from the outset by his affectionate shaping of the Theme. The ensuing portraits were all finely turned, the characters of Elgar’s “friends pictured within” vividly caught, standout moments being a deeply felt account of ‘Nimrod’, and a superb ‘Romanza’ in which time seemed to stand still. And the Finale (Elgar’s self-portrait) was most effective, the RFH organ thrillingly underlining the grandeur.