With the city awash with tinsel and tat, what a relief to find the Philharmonia giving a concert with no hint of the current season. The intelligently planned programme had all the hallmarks of Andras Schiff, who was to have conducted as well as performing as soloist. Exhaustion was the reason given for his withdrawal as conductor, but without stick he gave full measure. With stick was Uri Segal, who elegantly led the Philharmonia through Haydn, Bartok and Dvorak, at first glance not an obvious trio, but in fact linked geographically and culturally.
Haydn's 93rd Symphony is not one of the better known London symphonies commissioned by the concert promoter Johann Peter Salomon, but with its mixture of intimacy and quirkiness the fact that it's less known is odd. Typically beginning with a slow introduction, weaving in and out of the major and minor, a lovely lilting Allegro assai follows. The Philharmonia strings were in warm mood, with a beautiful bloom to their sound. The Largo second movement begins with the string principals as solo quartet in a set of charming, Baroque-inspired variations - rudely undermined by tutti bassoon raspberry.
Quirky Haydn gave way to emotionally ambivalent Bartok, his Divertimento for strings. The Molto Adagio is one of his most remarkable movements, and the Philharmonia strings gave an impassioned performance, producing menace and foreboding, particularly in their quiet, bleached, vibrato-less beginning. It's a searing movement.
After the interval, a change of mood. Dvorak's piano concerto is scarcely known in relation to his great cello concerto. And despite such a committed performance, it's not hard to see why. It feels like juvenile work, although it's not - Dvorak was 35 with a number of symphonies behind him. But the rhapsodic material seems to dwindle too often into "super-noodling", allowing the structure to become flabby and unclear. It's hard to believe anyone could play it better than Schiff, every nuance and colour lovingly observed. Only the lively, final movement seemed to suggest greater things.Reuse content