CLASSICAL MUSIC Tchaikovsky etc Philharmonia / Dohnanyi RFH, London

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The Independent Culture
It is no easy task for an orchestra and conductor to bring freshness of vision to so familiar masterpiece as Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. Responses have become jaded through overexposure to the music, and interpretations have often distorted its dramatic poetry in desperate attempts to find a new approach to its heart and soul. The Philharmonia Orchestra and its newly appointed principal conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi took steps to reach back to the symphony's essential content on Tuesday, and they avoided many of the mannerisms and devices with which interpreters have sought to personalise their approaches to the symphony.

Von Dohnanyi seemed to be striving to return to the purely musical, less autobiographical nature of the Fifth, eschewing the romantic indulgences of some interpreters. The tempos were brisk, for instance, rubato was discreet, and Tchaikovsky's inimitable symphonic processes were focused for their own elegant sake. It was a laudable attempt to reveal an artistic truth, but initially something of the symphony's personality was being lost and its lyrical inspiration depersonalised. Still, it was good to hear structural import rather than overheated emotion in the opening movement's powerful climaxes, and the orchestra played with vigour and edge.

During the later movements a better balance seemed to be achieved between the undeniably emotional cut of Tchaikovsky's material and the self-sufficiency of his symphonic dialectic, and we were drawn closer to the heart of the work, relishing the warmth and clarity of the "Andante", and the Waltz's fastidious textures. Perhaps the heady excitement of the finale's final pages was just missed in Von Dohnanyi's slightly clinical pacing, but the audience responded with enthusiasm and, in truth, there had been much to enjoy.

The concert had opened with a brassy, exuberant performance of Wagner's overture Rienzi. The strings had to fight for a hearing in the home straight, but excitement was intense and Rienzi's prayer was nobly delivered. Next, Garrick Ohlsson gave a remarkable account of Bartok's Second Piano Concerto. Its wrist-crunching rhythms were delivered with the utmost resilience and, when the slow movement's night music called for fleet-fingered scurrying, that problem was addressed with tingling poetry. The complex interaction between soloist and orchestra was splendidly overseen by von Dohnanyi, and the interpretation as a whole possessed rare cohesion.