Classical Music: London Philharmonic / Ivan Fischer RFH, SBC

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's good to talk, but it's even better to listen, and Wednesday night's premiere presentation of Jonathan Dove's BT commission The Ringing Isle set a few hundred feet tapping at the Royal Festival Hall. It is a bold, brassy piece, though not without its delicate moments - a sort of "Reich meets Respighi" scored for winds, brass, strings and percussion. Dove thought in terms of a "magical island"; a colleague was reminded of wedding bells and I remembered Michael Torke, John Adams and a handful of others who could - and no doubt will - charge the circuit with similar short-term thrillers. Ivan Fischer directed the London Philharmonic in a confident first outing and the audience certainly seemed to enjoy it.

Dove's fast ride delivered us back to Mozart and the ubiquitous though perennially appealing Clarinet Concerto which, on this particular occasion, received a swift, even breathless statement from Sabine Meyer. Fischer led a vital account of the orchestral score, homing in on significant counterpoint (the violas were rarely out of earshot), teasing and cajoling, though the balletic spectre of his phrase-shaping was not always reflected in the orchestra's response. Parts of the first movement were simply too fast for comfort, so much so that even Meyer - a superb technician by any standards - had a job maintaining her composure. The Adagio was beautifully drawn, especially the serene return of the principal theme later on in the movement, but the finale witnessed further bouts of speeding. Perhaps a couple of extra rehearsals would have marked the difference between a hasty statement and an eloquent address, but it was, nevertheless, a memorable performance in the making.

Bruckner followed and, again, there were enough good ideas to keep even the most jaded listener engaged. Both Fischer and his co-founder of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Zoltn Kocsis, are keen Brucknerians. I can remember Kocsis telling me how he marked Bartk's birthday by conducting Bruckner's Eighth Symphony, though I doubt that his performance was more eventful than Fischer's account of the Seventh. The opening was blissfully quiet, but the principal cello and horn melody was far too loud and the plethora of expressive gestures that mollified the main arguments were blatantly over-stated. One sensed within the orchestra the kind of impatience that some players show with Minimalism: boredom with repeated phrases, or intolerance of an unfamiliar time-scale - something that even Fischer's sympathetic conducting couldn't counter. The slow movement journeyed fitfully towards its cymbal-capped climax and the finale caught fire for a panoramic coda. It was a fascinating but restless performance that, like the Mozart concerto, took a few faltering steps towards genuine re-creativity. Given more time, it might have worked better; maybe Fischer will take the matter up again back home, then return with his own orchestra and the job finished.

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