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Press Reviews
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Royal Philharmonic an orchestra that can do anything
Arts Sarasota
15 January 2015
Forget the circus, I want to run away with the Royal Philharmonic! Having heard this esteemed ensemble in live performance at least three times in my life, this marks the second time I've been sent into an ecstatic state by this orchestra. Seriously, when an orchestra as technically skilled as this plays with such unison and musical purpose it can seemingly do anything.

Pinchas Zukerman, the violinist and conductor, offered spare direction in Mozart's cheeky overture to "Marriage of Figaro," and the musicians played every detail to perfection. There was a crisp bounce to the string sound and a gracious sense of openness that lifted the heart. We've heard the score countless times, but around every turn the Royal Philharmonic delivered a surprise in high contrast dynamics and high impact phrasing.

The smaller string section of the Mozart ensemble was augmented by a couple of stands for each instrument, more brass stepped on the stage and Zukerman launched them into Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26. One of the most popular violin showcases in the repertoire, this Bruch concerto is high Romantic style schmaltz, but the schmaltz we can all love. The score provided the platform for the orchestra to deliver its most lush and glorious moments of the evening while an unflappable Zukerman handily conducted and performed the virtuosic solo part with supreme mastery.

If the big Romantic waves of intoxicating music in the first two movements didn't send you into another world, then the boisterous flourishes of the Finale certainly got the blood coursing. It was that good. Making it all the more enjoyable, Zukerman both caressed and dug into his part producing dark, woody, mouth-watering tones.

Could this get better? Indeed, yes. Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 delivers even more tuneful color than his more famous "New World" symphony, and in the hands of the Royal Philharmonic it never sounded better as a perfect showcase for the strings, winds, and brass of what might be the world's best orchestra. I could only marvel at the perfect dovetailing of, for example, flute to oboe. When did one end and the other begin? A solo trumpet possessed a tone never before encountered. Finely honed horns cut through a brambly thicket of sound like razors.

I know this symphony like the back of my hand and I was still astonished at the seemingly fresh sculpting of sound. Nearly every moment was a fresh and delightful encounter. By the last movement, which at times feels like a drunken peasant party with wailing horns, I felt drunk myself by this music.

Thankfully, the sedate by comparison encore, the third movement from Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, was like a cup of coffee to bring me down to earth. Warming and lovely, but now we all had to return to the real world. What a shame.
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.

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