BBC Philharmonic on Tour in central Europe; with David Garrett in Lucerne

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Weber, Tchaikovsky: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Juanjo Mena (conductor), David Garrett (violin) Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern (KKL), Lucerne, 17.3.2017. (JR)

Weber – Overture, Euryanthe
Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D major Op.35; Symphony No.4 in F minor Op.36

The BBC Philharmonic are on tour in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and the huge modern concert hall in Lucerne must make quite a change to Eccles Town Hall where they performed earlier in the week. Perhaps to ensure a full house (which they achieved with ease), their soloist for the Tchaikovsky violin concert was David Garrett, whom I must admit in very many decades of concert going I had managed to miss. Pony-tailed and in a black jacket, skinny jeans not quite inside his scruffy boots and a vest (had he perhaps forgotten to put on a shirt?) he makes Nigel Kennedy look almost sartorially elegant. Spotted as a prodigious talent by Yehudi Menuhin, his classical training included tuition in part from Ida Haendel and Itzhak Perlman. The German President offered him the use of a Stradivarius at the age of 13. He is now best known for his record-breaking cross-over albums which guarantees him a certain celebrity status.

His performance of the Tchaikovsky sadly failed to lift off, lacking emotional depth or interpretative insights, though he played the slow movement with some sensitivity and gave us a crisp cadenza. Yes, Garrett played all the notes, though intonation was a little approximate at the top at times, but he played his version of the concerto whilst the orchestra played theirs (with many fine contributions from the woodwind). Occasionally he smiled smugly which was disconcerting to watch. Several audience members swooned audibly hearing his harmonics and they applauded long and hard after the first movement, probably many thinking the piece had ended and it was time for a well-earned interval drink. This was visibly not the usual concert-going audience; the David Garrett Fan Club complete with noisy cough-sweet openers was in town.

Garrett’s charming and playful encore was delivered from him sitting on the podium, having instructed the strings to ‘back’ him for which they were clearly unrehearsed. He addressed the audience in German and then the orchestra in English apologising for the shortness of the rehearsal but saying the concert had gone quite well – which rather gave the game away.

After the encore, his Fan Club in the front two rows gave him an instant standing ovation.  Everyone else was then forced to stand to try to see what the fuss was all about.

The concert had begun with Weber’s Overture to his opera Euryanthe which is spirited but disjointed; the orchestra played with considerable verve.

The second half was mercifully Garrett-free. The orchestra had clearly rehearsed the symphony long and hard, especially the beginnings and endings of each movement. Whilst Mena was a mite leaden in the opening two movements, he lifted off, literally, in the thrilling final movement and the strings impressed in their delightful pizzicato Scherzo. Also notable were the fluff-free quintet of horns, the spirited leader, the principal bassoonist and the energetic young timpanist.

By way of encore, we enjoyed an oompah chunk of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Suite to his opera The Snow Maiden.

John Rhodes

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