At this wonderful concert, a packed Royal Festival Hall was treated to a slide-rule performance of a programme that could have been a run-of-the-mill outing for well-tried orchestral standards. Instead, we were witness to an exemplary interpretation of Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony, in which Christoph von Dohnyáni conducted the sublime Philharmonia through a sure-footed and delightfully witty reading with a lightness of touch exemplified by his economical gestures. The tempi were brisk, which could have wrong- footed the woodwind, but they were more than equal to the task.
The strings, whose deftness owed much to the Early Music brigade but without the one-dimensional tone colour, were shown to perfection in the second movement, most notably the lower strings, who set an accurate ostinato to the beautifully crafted violin phrases. It was refreshing to see such rapport between the orchestra and the maestro as they played to each other as well as the audience.
Next up was Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, with Andreas Haefliger as the soloist. The tempo of the orchestral introduction was surprisingly pacy, but utterly refreshing. Sadly, Haefliger seemed to be ahead of the orchestra on occasions. His technique is immaculate, but some corners were missed. This interpretation sounded like a work in progress. The second movement was dangerously slow, but Haefliger sustained the beauty of the melodic line and there were some alluring pianissimos that made us hold our breath. Again, the winds were in top form, with support for the violins from Ken Smith, the principal flute.
Now we came to Beethoven's iconoclastic Fifth Symphony. The forces amassed (including a double wind section) may have led one to think we were in for a Klempererian granite monster. But no, Prometheus was unchained, and the fast tempi and sure-footed playing made the piece sound fresh. Rotary valve trumpets and Vienna-style timpani played with immaculate artistry by John Chimes nodded to the Viennese orchestral tradition without compromising the Philharmonia's unique sound. Each movement's tempo was carefully crafted to complement the next, and the whole was even better than its parts. The architecture of the piece was thoroughly understood by players and maestro alike, which led to a stunning rendition. "Isn't it nice to hear it live?" was one comment I heard as I left. Yes, it definitely was. This was Beethoven as alive, muscular and cutting edge as one could ever expect.
Chris Lacey, Music teacher, Wallington, Surrey