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Press Reviews
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Prom 60: RPO/Dutoit at the Albert Hall, SW7
The Times
3 September 2014
How about this for an evening meal: chocolate fudge pie, cherry cheesecake, topped off with black forest gateau? A combined performance of Respighi’s Roman tone poems isn’t quite that indigestible, for the orchestra does tiptoe from time to time, but the calories and noise involved need a health warning and a conductor not afraid of the immoderate.

Enter, then, Charles Dutoit. This Swiss conductor has always dissected colourful scores with finesse, and his British orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, kept glittering even during the excesses of Roman Festivals, the trilogy’s last and least. By placing that first in the running order, Dutoit gave the meal a handy dramatic arc: hearty first course, palate-cleanser (Fountains of Rome) then a juicy, teeth-chomping finale (Pines of Rome).

The Albert Hall is the perfect venue for Respighi at full tilt. The organ soared, the brass blared, drums hammered on our heads. The quieter phases also hit home, from the sunset reverie depicting the Villa Medici fountain to the nightingale’s song chirping so distantly against gentle strings. I’d like a decade’s gap, please, before eating the trilogy in one go again — the constitution needs time to recover — but you can’t say that the experience wasn’t memorable.

In the first half, Dutoit’s forensic skills couldn’t quite bring dancing clarity to Walton’s Sinfonia Concertante, heard in its knottier original version. It wasn’t particularly his fault: if anything we should blame the score, a youthful jostle of racing verve, a few stale japes and a lovely sun-kissed andante. Belying the piano part’s difficulties, soloist Danny Driver tickled the ivories with an ease to match his casual attire. Some rhythmic hesitations apart, the RPO pitched in well, too, though they kept their best for the monster junket in Rome.
Prom 60: RPO/Dutoit review – aplomb and bags of panache
The Guardian
2 September 2014
It was hard to imagine Respighi's Roman trilogy done better...

Charles Dutoit, principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, has long been an advocate of Respighi's so-called Roman trilogy, his sequence of symphonic poems composed between 1915 and 1928, which obliquely survey the city's history and culture through depictions of its fountains, pines and festivals.

Individually, the three pieces are variably familiar: we hear Roman Festivals less frequently than its two companions. Dutoit and the RPO, however, gave us all three in a single evening. And what a treat it turned out to be.

Concerns that Respighi's opulent idiom might prove indigestible over more than an hour's span were soon dissipated. The constant shifts in orchestral colour have a mesmerising, almost narcotic quality that both holds the attention throughout, and allows us to absorb Respighi's often garish sense of drama. He's usually pigeonholed as post-Romantic, though Dutoit reminded us of an eclectic mix of influences.

Roman Festivals, written last but placed first, opens in the Circus Maximus to ear-splitting dissonances as Christians are thrown to the lions, then glances at Stravinsky's Les Noces and Petrushka as the mood lightens.

Debussy haunts the Fountains of Rome, while Pines of Rome has strong overtones of Strauss. All three are admirably suited to the RPO's virtuoso manner, and it was hard to imagine them better done.

Another Rome-inspired work, Berlioz's Le Carnaval Romain, opened the evening in a performance that was fastidiously precise but curiously short on excitement. A sharp contrast was provided by Walton's Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra, with its spiky yet affectionate portraits of Walton's patrons and friends, the Sitwell family. Danny Driver was the hard-hitting soloist in music that is at once difficult and ungrateful for the pianist. Dutoit conducted with great aplomb and bags of panache.
Prom 60: Driver, RPO, Dutoit
The Arts Desk
2 September 2014
Rainbow colours with a cooling shower or two in Proms showpiece time

After the enervating excesses of Salome and Elektra at the weekend, the abundance of notes at the Proms continued in a piano recital and an orchestral showstopper, but this time with built-in air conditioning. After all, both 22-year-old Benjamin Grosvenor and septuagenarian Charles Dutoit are absolutely in control of the colours they make, very occasionally too much so. But it was a rainbow-hued day inside the Cadogan and Royal Albert Halls, culminating in a spectacular and perhaps unrepeatable Respighi triple bill of Roman impressions.

Zukerman and the RPO perform Mozart's miraculous final three symphonies
6 July 2014
It is maybe ironic that Mozart's final three symphonies (nos. 39, 40 and 41), grand works that epitomise the heights of the Classical era, have been intellectually romanticised in the centuries following his death. It is indeed of one music's marvels that Mozart managed to complete these three extensive works in the summer of 1788, however there has been a prolonged musicological search for an extramusical meaning to these symphonies, with some claiming they might encapsulate Mozart's worldview, a plea for humanitarianism.

It seems unlikely that, for the most part, a contemporary audience would understand the works in this way, but I believe that there is still a feeling that these works must be revered and treasured as Mozart's final symphonic testament. However, with this acknowledgment of importance has come an inevitable familiarity, and I feel programming all three works in the same concert is only really justifiable if you have something original and exciting to say. Unfortunately, these were perfectly satisfying yet very routine interpretations.

Pinchas Zukerman Summer Music Festival at Cadogan Hall – 3: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Mozart’s final three Symphonies, 39-41
Classical Source
2 July 2014
There was perhaps a routine look about this programme. To have the last three Mozart symphonies one after another seemed a pretty unimaginative piece of planning. In the event it was an enthralling and most unusual experience. A modest-sized RPO assembled on Cadogan Hall’s stage, and as we awaited the arrival of Pinchas Zukerman thoughts turned to what kind of performances we could expect.

The answer came soon enough in the introduction to the E flat Symphony. Here was a grand, majestic, emphatic statement in a very deliberate tempo, from which the Allegro part of the first movement emerged sweetly and elegantly phrased. The reduced string section sounded warm and seductive, the woodwinds blossomed beautifully and it was like a nostalgic trip back to the glory days of the RPO under its founder and great Mozartean Sir Thomas Beecham. Beecham wouldn’t have observed first-movement repeats, which we heard here in all three Symphonies.

Tempos throughout were generally on the moderate side, though not as measured as those of Beecham or his Austro-German contemporaries in slow movements, the music allowed plenty of easy expression yet it also flowed naturally. An exception was the Andante cantabile of the ‘Jupiter’, for which Zukerman adopted a daringly sedate tempo. But it came off well, thanks to the conductor’s skill in maintaining a forward pulse in such unhurried circumstances, and the touching way in which he brought out the meaningful nature of the music. Here, though, an exposition repeat would have spoilt the mood of this particular kind music-making, and made the movement seem contrived and overlong.

Zukerman’s conducting was firm enough when there was a need for precise ensemble, but in general he gave his players plenty of room for self-expression. In this environment they flourished, especially during woodwind-dominated passages. At one or two points the conductor simply stopped beating and became an approving observer; elsewhere his baton movements described a long arc as he brought out felicitous points of detail. Overall this was elevated music making, an evening that was very special.
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