Philharmonia: Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducts Brahms, Schumann and Sibelius at the Royal Festival Hall
This was a slightly tricky evening for the Philharmonia on their home turf at the Royal Festival Hall. Such a big and brilliant programme is commonplace for an orchestra of their renown and proven excellence, and wouldn’t typically be any trouble, but, on this occasion, under the baton of Santtu-Matias Rouvali, there was an uneasiness on display.
The headline work, Sibelius’s frosty and turbulent Symphony No 5, had a vibrancy, despite the steady tempos instigated by Rouvali. The sudden turns the piece takes were leapt upon keenly, and brought with them a great deal of drama. The strings shone here, delivering fizzy melodies that zipped from the texture as well as complex yet subtle underlying passages. Lengthy wind solos were navigated with aplomb, the horns and brass blazed (perhaps a little too much now and then).
Sadly, though, the strong second half did not entirely atone for an unfortunate first. One of the Philharmonia’s staples, Brahms’s Academic Overture, opened proceedings, timidly at first, though a clamour for more emerged soon enough, the sound nothing short of fruity by the work’s conclusion. Solos popped up here and there with brilliance, but the company otherwise meandered between clean unity and something rather more approximate.
The overture was paired with one of Western classical’s great showpieces, Robert Schumann’s Konzertstück for orchestra, with four horn soloists. The squad quartet, led by section principal Diego Incertis Sánchez, trooped on, all clad in identical white tie and tails, to greet the audience with a charmingly relatable awkwardness. With horns to their lips, they were not interested in holding back – an admirable lesson in courage in many ways. They comfortably out-blasted the whole orchestra in the initial call-and-response phrases, which had a thrill, but, come the first melodic passage, its unclean delivery unfortunately set the scene for the rest of the piece. It’s fiendishly difficult of course, and a ramp up in pressure from their day-to-day, but the audience would have expected a little more finesse from these four.
The Philharmonia is formed of actual human people, then: here was a rare date in the calendar when things didn’t go off without a hitch. They lacked their golden sheen this time.
For further information and future events visit Philharmonia: Santtu conducts Brahms, Schumann and Sibelius’s website here.