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Philharmonia 02 May 2024 (Susan Elkin reviews)


Alexandre Bloch, Sunwook Kim

Royal Festival Hall

02 May 2024

It’s not easy when a conductor has to step in at the last minute as Alexandre Bloch did at this concert for the indisposed Santtu-Matias Rouvali. A lot of effort had clearly gone into making it work and, on the whole, it came off.

The high spot was Sunwook Kim playing Brahms’s Second Piano concerto and watching him play with his whole body as well as his hands. He soared through the opening movement (having negotiated that most challenging of openings with the solo horn), and brought crisp resonance to the second, often turning to make eye contact with upper strings. It was, however the andante which really moved mountains.  The exquisite cello solo (Alice Neary) with which the piano duets – Kim leaning to the right to look round the piano at Neary –  was breathtaking. He’s a wonderfully secure player. I have a special, very personal affection for this huge concerto which goes right back to my early twenties and it’s a real treat to hear it played as sensitively as this.

After it, though, Schumann’s Symphony No 3 “Rhenish” seemed a a bit of an anticlimax. It’s a pleasant enough symphony but it’s far from great and I suspect that for this concert most of the rehearsal time had been devoted to the concerto because the Schumann was ragged in places. It wasn’t together at the beginning, for example. and the coherence slipped in the final accelerando. I liked the way Bloch brought out the minor key angst and the fanfares in the fourth movement, though.

It was inspired programming  to start the concert with The Entry of the Gods into Valhalla. It means that those of us who can’t quite hack raw Wagner in its entirety can enjoy a small Wagner fix. And this familiar eight minute section (arranged by Hermann Zumpe) is as beautiful as it is grandiose.  Bloch – an expansive conductor whose feet are never still –  leaned on all that luscious brass interspersed with wistful woodwind: colourful, epic story telling in music.

One more specific word of praise:  Watching Annabelle Meare, who leads The Philharmonia’s second violins is like a mini-masterclass in ensemble playing. Her eyes are on the leader as much as they are on the conductor. She hardly seems to look at her music and her gestures are really clear for the rest of her section. I learn from her every time I see her in action.



Author information
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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