Royal Philharmonic an orchestra that can do anything
15 January 2015Forget 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.