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Martinu & Rachmaninoff
LPO & Philharmonia Saturdays

Martinu Frescoes of Piero della Francesca
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
Strauss Symphonia Domestica

LPO/Mark Elder
Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin
Royal Festival Hall 24 January 2009

Indian cross-over pre-concert:
Players from the Philharmonia Orchestra
Shiva Nova musicians with Priti Paintal presenter

Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol
Shostakovich Piano Concerto No.2
Rachmaninov Symphony No.2

Philharmonia Orchestra/Tugan Sokhiev
Nikolai Demidenko piano
Royal Festival Hall 31 January 2009

Blockbusters seem to fill the Festival Hall on Saturday nights. Martinu's subtle and delicious Frescoes of Piero della Francesca had fully justified its concert airing by Mark Elder and the LPO last week, but Anne-Sophie Mutter (before her signing session) proved on that occasion a poor advocate for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto...

And Strauss's gargantuan picture of his family's home life repelled. Clever in its assured contrapuntal writing, spotlighting orchestral virtuosity, but culminating with ghastly grandiosity which alienated us long before the end of Symphonia Domestica, which we won't want to hear again...

It was a long haul the following week, but worth waiting for the end of last night's Royal Festival Hall double-bill ! Priti Paintal's new commission, a cross-over 'composition' bringing together members of the Philharmonia Orchestra and Indian musicians from Shiva Nova, presented with images of the Himalayas etc for background, was a dire simplistic disappointment, the worst of both worlds.

Capriccio Espagnol is not a good starter for a concert; a relentless concoction, with castanets for Spanish flavour, which only became interesting in the latter parts. A good overture, as used to be customary in symphony concerts, would have been better... Shostakovich's light-hearted little 2nd concerto, composed for his student son, who (as conductor) recorded it with his own son, found the unpredictable pianist Nikolai Demidenko (who disappointed at Blackheath a year ago) in good form; the notes told of a slimmed down orchestra to allow the piano to shine through - it was not slimmed enough for that in the section building up to the cadenza.

Last night we had the Philharmonia and Tugan Sokhiev make of Rachmaninov's Symphony No.2 a rich and memorable experience. Blend and richness of orchestral colour were exceptional throughout, the scoring as here realised the work of compositional genius. None of the sections pushed themselves unduly to the fore; the orchestra was an organic whole, and my respect and regard for Rachmaninov as orchestral composer was greatly enhanced. A performance to long remember.

Peter Grahame Woolf