Philharmonia/Dutoit/Berezovsky, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The icy blast from Scandinavia was as evident inside as outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Charles Dutoit and the Philharmonia Orchestra played Sibelius's Finlandia like natives of the Land of the Midnight Sun; a long, deep, resonance of cellos and basses the source of their resilience, with flaring trumpets sounding off like a summons. Somewhat ironically, this fervour was well matched later by Dutoit's Tchaikovsky - a symbolic reunion with Finland's one-time occupier.

In between, though, came the most complacent and featureless performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto that I have heard in a very long time. Granted, Boris Berezovsky was a late replacement for Mikhail Pletnev, but one could not help but think of the individuality and fresh thinking that Pletnev might have brought to so hackneyed a piece. Berezovsky's approach was so casual as to be almost horizontal. No one would dispute a technique so complete as to look, feel, and sound effortless, but not one single phrase sounded as if it had been happened upon with any degree of affection or wonder. For an encore that Berezovsky can hardly be said to have earned there was more Grieg: three Norwegian Dances played as they might be played in practice - for himself, and himself alone.

Dutoit's sterling account of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony showed distinction from the outset, with the Philharmonia's excellent first clarinet glaring into the face of fate. Deliberate pacing into the main allegro brought an inexorability to this first movement. One might have wished for a degree more temperament, even a hint of impetuosity - those inward quickenings of pulse that point to a composer on the edge.

Equally Dutoit might have indulged his solo horn a fraction more in the slow movement - this great solo carries a lifetime's yearning. But there was plenty of that from Gordon Hunt's plaintive oboe counterpoints and the Philharmonia violins gave us all the requisite sob and swoon with the second subject. Come the finale, they really kicked up some dust in the allegro vivace, maximising the minor-to-major transformation.

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