Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

Italian adventures courtesy of Elgar, In the South (Alassio), 1904, and Strauss, Aus Italien, 1886, the former nominally a Concert Overture if more a symphonic poem, the latter a four-movement Symphonic Fantasy, both composers writing ambitious musical postcards having visited the country.

The Elgar received an initially stately outing – vivid detailing, interesting counterpoints – although broad became broader, sleepy, before the excitement and weight of ancient battles fired Elgar’s imagination, and then to nocturnal rest with the ‘Canto Popolare’, lovely viola and horn solos (neither player credited), with a no-hurry start to the next day, albeit with sweeping lines and luxuriant tones, harp unusually prominent, and final exultancy; twenty-three minutes though confirmed that Rouvali had rather dragged the whole and the audience response was muted.

Aus Italien – countryside, Roman ruins, a beach at Sorrento, Neapolitan festivities – was given with a sense of occasion, music that paints pictures and can be indulged, which Rouvali did at times while also recognising that the score’s repetitions are best not underlined, and the Sorrento movement was idyllic, played with bewitching twilight variegation and expressive warmth. In the zesty and colourful Finale, Strauss makes use of what he thought was a local folk-tune; however, he fell foul of copyright for he had borrowed ‘Funiculì, Funiculà’ by Luigi Denza, written as recently as 1880 and published by Ricordi; Strauss was sued for a substantial sum. Rouvali was (too) steady with building the rhythmically vital final pages to cap an impressive and revealing travelogue.

The first movement of Chopin’s E-minor Piano Concerto (No.1, actually No.2) was lively, passionate, shapely and quicksilver, Seong-Jin Cho in splendid form with all the dexterity and musicianship needed – generously accompanied by the Philharmonia and Rouvali – romantic too during the intimacies of the slow movement, ravishing, with a bassoon as interlocutor, and an eyes-wide-open sprint through the Finale, effortless but not glib from the pianist, excitingly danced (a krakowiak) to an exhilarating conclusion, riposted by a magically floated encore, the E-flat Nocturne, Opus 9/2, Chopin of course.