PO/Fruhbeck de Burgos, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

By pairing Khachaturian's Piano Concerto with Orff's Carmina Burana, the Philharmonia Orchestra imposed a questioning of preconceived ideas. Are these not pop classics that reviewers usually pass over in favour of the weightier items on the programme?

With Khachaturian, the popularity was more reflected than actual. His ubiquitous Spartacus music makes us think we know what he's about, while the concerto has become a rarity. It's striking that a pianist of Jean-Yves Thibaudet's refinement and intelligence should not only be playing it from memory but sounding as though he has made it part of himself. It asks for, and received, nimble fingers rather than crashing chords in the fast opening movement, then, in the lyrical centrepiece, the weight of arms and shoulders. Add the distinctive orchestration for woodwind to set alongside the sweeping strings, play it with the Philharmonia's expressive exactness, and the concerto's case was finely made.

Carmina Burana, on the other hand, is so familiar that it's hard to hear anew. Yet for all its origins in the fascist-populist culture of the 1930s, its matching of music and words – bawdy medieval poems – can catch a more current spirit. In his artfully built-up sequence stressing the fatalism under the pleasure-seeking, Orff seems to anticipate the psychology of today's binge-drinking culture.

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and the then New Philharmonia made the work's definitive recording four decades ago, and once again the obvious sounded fresh thanks to artful pacing and timing. On the orchestral front, the refinement continued in the lightly scored interludes and balancing of big numbers, and the current Philharmonia Chorus matched its illustrious predecessor at full blast, energetically supported by choristers from King's and St John's Colleges.

William Dazeley's baritone best caught the despairing tone in the choicest roles. David Kuebler made what he could of a part that goes too high for a tenor, and if Claire Rutter sounded more knowing than ecstatic about her character's loss of innocence, that's a fair enough contemporary take.

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