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Philharmonia 28 April 2024 (Susan Elkin reviews)


Masaaki Suzuki, Jean-Guihen Queyras

Royal Festival Hall

28 April 2024

It’s interesting to see what a man, widely associated with and famous for, Bach and original instruments, does with a full-size symphony orchestra, modern instuments and nineteenth century repertoire. Well the answer is that without baton or histrionice, Masaaki Suzuki simply allows the music to work the magic. His Egmont Overture was packed with more incisive drama (all those heavy down bows and the percussive horn) than I’ve heard in this work for a very long time.

Forces were slightly reduced for Schumann’s cello concert. Jean-Guihen Queyras brought an attractive blend of warmth and seriousness to the opening movement with a sensitive accompaniment from the orchestra. It must feel odd, incidentally, to play a cello concerto with the cello section fanned out only inches behind you: Suzuki  had them placed them in front of the podium with second violins on his right.  The double stopping passage in the slow movement was played with delicate sensitivity and Queyras found plenty of colour and verve in the finale. These two men have never, apparently, worked together before – and this is Suzuki’s first time with the Philharmonia – but there was a palpable sense of musical rapport in this performance.

The concerto went down very well with the audience so of course there was an encore: a short folk song followed by the prelude from the Second Suite by JS Bach. Queyras – who has lots of French charm – told the audience that he’d just completed a good tour of Spain with the Philharmonia, and then played his encore with clean passion.

And so in this gloriously cosmopolitan concert we moved on, after the interval, to a work by a Czech composer conducted by a Japanese in an English concert hall played by an orchestra led by a German/Hungarian (Zsolt-Tihamer Visontay – always excellent).

Suzuki gave us lots of Bohemian brightness and balance in the opening movement of Dvorak 6 with every wind part (even the tuba) biting through the texture. Yes, he’s conjuring or damping down sound with hand gestures but he’s also (mostly) beating time which I’ve always regarded as a conductor’s main job but which seems to have gone out of fashion. It explains, I think, why almost every bar of music in this concert was so crisply together. The second movement delivered well controlled lyricism with exceptionally pleasing horn work. The folksy (it’s based on a Bohemian furiant or peasant dance) third movement was slightly ragged at the segue into the trio  but the magical piccolo sound more than compensated. And we got  an exuberantly triumphant finale to round off the evening.  I went home happily reflecting that, despite the familiarity of this symphony. Suzuki had made me notice entries and lines which aren’t usually audible.

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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