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Culture: Classical review: Breeding wins through; Philharmonia Symphony Hall.

Byline: Christopher Morley

As you would expect of an aristocrat, the Philharmonia was classy from the moment it was born, working with conductors such as Beecham, Klemperer, Furtwangler, Karajan and the great Richard Strauss, whose Four Last Songs the orchestra premiered in 1950.

Now, celebrating 60 years since its founding, the Philharmonia still has plenty of majesty, but some plebeian elements have appeared, too, despite the concept of noblesse oblige.

I would complain about a youth orchestra's members publicly practising onstage snatches of the music the audience is about to hear, let alone a world-class orchestra such as this. I would also wince at any player tapping their feet on the platform in time to the music, but we witnessed this, too.

But so much of the Philharmonia's elegance remains. Orchestral balance seems instinctive and natural, solos emerge with immense style and eloquence, and unanimity of phrasing reveals just how much these players listen to each other.

Much of this is down to the Philharmonia's pedigree, regardless of whichever conductor is on the podium, and in this concert, part of the 60th anniversary tour, Charles Dutoit's elegant, laconic direction allowed the orchestra to play to its strengths.

Debussy's enigmatic Jeux was wonderfully light yet beautifully phrased, as pointillist as a Seurat painting. The garish colours of Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade were completely in contrast, and the Philharmonia relished its generous opportunities, though ensemble in the singing third movement was not quite perfect.

Jean-Philippe Collard was the elegant soloist in Ravel's G major Piano Concerto, his ever-present playing combining bluesy jazziness with beautifully judged colours, sounding, at one point, almost like a musical saw in his trilling songfulness.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 28, 2005
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