Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Friday, August 26, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

It was rather disappointing, if for all the right reasons. We were told that “superstar violinist” Pekka Kuusisto was going to have “fun” with The Lark Ascending – quotes from Radio 3 – and he himself was expecting to have rotten tomatoes thrown at him. Why? His rendition was very intimate, slowly awakening, spontaneous (the art that conceals art) and without affectation, if a little too quick in the folksy middle section. Yet, daringly quiet as it was, and appreciably unstudied (seemingly), it offered a perfectly valid view of this wonderful work without making any definitive claims for the interpretation (unlike the Hugh Bean/Boult recording), sympathetically accompanied, but the memory of it will fade, I suspect. Kuusisto also played Thomas Adès’s Märchentänze (UK premiere) – inventive, quirky, ear-catching, over four movements and fifteen minutes, with violin and orchestra interactive. Kuusisto’s encore was an affecting, for him in memoriam (mother and brother), Sibelius Humoresque, No.4.

Debussy’s La mer opened proceedings, well-prepared, well-played, it took a while to settle and grew in stature as it went, a symphonic approach, whether tricky corners eloquently turned, playful and passionate, delicate and dramatic, with the ad lib fanfares in the Finale included, and the conclusion made elemental. A perfectly good La mer if with little to distinguish it from other perfectly good ones. Sibelius Five closed the concert. I am currently haunted by the recent release of a stunning Celibidache performance,, so whether Nicholas Collon, or any other conductor, the shadows are long. Collon didn’t explore the Symphony; rather he looked after its wholesome qualities, and, if like the Debussy, things took a while to engage, there were soon to be some magical pianissimos, thrills (the end of the first movement, which had included a characterful bassoon solo), and an energetic Finale, during which the swans were in majestic flight, yet the very end lacked for ultimate monumentalism; a performance that didn’t quite add up, but Sibelius’s Valse triste, however core to this excellent orchestra, ended the evening on a bit of a downer.

Hugh Bean/New Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult.

Anne-Sophie Mutter premieres Thomas Adès’s Air, tomorrow.

Sad news: composer, conductor & violinist Jaakko Kuusisto has died at the age of 48. Video of him playing in a private house, March 2019.