United Kingdom Beethoven, Mascagni, Grieg, Dvořák: Alexandra Dariescu (piano), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Alessandro Fabrizi (conductor) Cadogan Hall 27.11.2014 (RB)
Beethoven Fidelio Overture Op 72
Mascagni Cavalleria rusticana: Intermezzo
Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor Op 16
Dvořák Symphony No. 7 in D Minor Op 70
This concert of popular Romantic masterpieces opened with two short orchestral works taken from well known operas. The first of them was the overture to Fidelio which is shorter, simpler and more direct than its three immediate predecessors. It received a very assured and accomplished performance from Fabrizi and the RPO. The RPO’s horns produced beautifully rounded mellow sounds in the opening section. Fabrizi showed good judgement in his choice of tempi as the music moved from the initial call to arms to the slower, more reflective sections of the overture. Occasionally, I wondered if they could have brought out more of the earthy, muscular qualities in this music and I would have liked the opening section to be a little bit more energetic. However, the performance ended on a high note with the RPO firing on all cylinders to give us a scintillating coda.
The performances seemed to go up a notch with the intermezzo to Cavalleria rusticana. The opening section on the strings had a gorgeous silky smoothness and Fabrizi did an excellent job bringing out the yearning quality of the music. He seemed to have much more of an instinctive and intuitive feel for this music and I loved the way it opened up and one became caught up in the grand romantic sweep of the piece.
The young Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu joined Fabrizi and the RPO for the Grieg Piano Concerto. Dariescu was recently named as one of “the top 30 pianists under 30” in International Piano Magazine, and there was much to admire in her performance. The famous opening chords were delivered with powerful authority and the passage work was played in a beautifully controlled and highly cultivated way. Dariescu showed her considerable virtuoso firepower in the first movement cadenza which was played with a commendable mixture of power and refinement. She also showed her skills as a chamber musician in the unobtrusive way she accompanied the flute and horn solos. The filigree figurations in the slow movement were played with exquisite grace and the RPO’s principal cello brought a sense of rapture to his solo. In the final movement Dariescu really brought the spirit of the dance to the outer sections while the middle section had a serene, luminous quality. There was excellent support from the RPO’s principal flautist who delivered his solo with an unblemished beauty of tone. The quality of Dariescu’s playing was very fine throughout although her approach to this particular piece was at times a little too Classical and refined for my taste. I would have liked to hear a wider range of dynamics and a little more barnstorming in the virtuoso passagework. Having said that, fellow Romanian Radu Lupu is one of the greatest exponents of this concerto and Dariescu is completely within her rights to play it in this way so I suspect others may disagree with me.
The final work on the programme was Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony which the composer wrote in 1884-85 during a time of personal crisis in his life. He described the slow movement as being “from the sad years” – a reference to the recent death of his mother and possibly also to the death of his eldest child. Fabrizi and the RPO captured the dark passions of the opening movement well although some of the entries could have been tighter and more focused at the beginning of the piece. The slow movement was better and I loved the opening folk hymn in the woodwind and the flexible and organic way in which the music was allowed to emerge. Fabrizi managed to coax some gorgeous colours from the RPO in this movement and the whole thing flowed in a natural and instinctive way. The scherzo is based on the Czech furiant and I liked the lilt and sway which Fabrizi brought to the music while the trio section was playful and charming. The RPO played the last movement with enormous energy and conviction but they did not produce an entirely seamless and convincing musical narrative.
Fabrizi came out twice to acknowledge the applause from the audience but then declined to come out again and there was a rather awkward moment when the RPO’s leader decided to lead the players off stage in spite of the ongoing applause. There was a lot of very good playing in the concert so it is a shame that the concert ended on this rather awkward note.