Chopin and Dvorák at the QEH

Yesterday evening the Philharmonia Orchestra, under Vladimir Ashkenazy, gave its last performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall before returning to the refurbished Royal Festival Hall. All the orchestras have been performing at the QEH for the last two years: although a smaller hall than the RFH it can handle a full sized orchestra and the sound is warm and pleasant, though less detailed than the RFH. The main problem for the orchestras has been the much smaller audience - and hence less money coming in.

The concert opened with two movements from Chopiniana, Glazunov's orchestration of several of Chopin's piano works. I've never liked this: the piano pieces are perfect in themselves and spraying them with orchestral colour is like colouring a perfect marble statue. The Nocturne in F suffered badly from this: however well the orchestra played it, it sounded like a Hollywoodisation. The Tarantella in A flat suffered less, being a lively and more robust piece.

On to real Chopin: the second Piano Concerto, played by Maria João Pires. The delicacy of the work is difficult to maintain on a modern Steinway in what is probably a rather larger hall than Chopin was used to: and I could have done with rather less sustaining pedal, which tended to cloud the complexity of the music. That said, Pires gave a convincing and musical performance. I have to admit to some difficulty over this concerto, as I have the rare International Piano Library LP of a broadcast by the great pianist Josef Hofmann: his playing - which is like that fine china you can see light through - sets an impossibly high standard and it's difficult to disregard it when listening to any other performance.

The concert ended with Dvorák's 8th Symphony, a warm-hearted and sunny work. An engaging performance, particularly in the attractive mid-section of the third movement and the Elgarian opening theme of the final movement. The woman next to me, who had been assuming hand-on-forehead 'I am a music lover' poses, took to studying the program - or rather the inset leaflet offering the opportunity to have your name stuck on a seat for an inflated price - during the third movement: I wonder why some people bother to come.

Concerts at the Royal Festival Hall start shortly, but as it happens I don't have one booked until September (after a couple of weeks of concerts the hall is spending the rest of the summer with a production of Carmen Jones - the orchestras will be concentrating on the Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall): I look forward to seeing and hearing the results of the refurbishment then.

Posted: Fri - June 1, 2007 at 09:07 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM