Review: Philharmonia Orchestra, St David’s Hall, Cardiff

05.09.13
Sir Andrew Davis
Wales Online

By Peter Collins

Featuring French painist Lise de la Salle, this concert affirmed that Sir Andrew Davis is one of the great personalties in classical music, oozing enthusiasm and panache

With the greatest respect to the admirable Sir Andrew Davis, rising French pianist Lise de la Salle was always likely to be the main attraction at this concert.

Her elegance and beauty is matched by her fine playing which has earned her praise and admiration around the world.

For her debut at  St David’s Hall in Cardiff, the 24 year-old chose to play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 9, Jeunehomme, which is widely regarded as his first great masterpiece. The legendary pianist Alfred Brendel described it as “one of the greatest wonders of the world”.

Dressed in black and with flowing blonde hair, Mademoiselle  de la Salle adopted a no-nonsense approach to the music which was carefully considered but sometimes lacked emotional insight.

There was a youthful enthusiasm and lightness of touch to her playing of the outer movements, but also a thoughtfulness mixed with a sense of Mozartian mischief.

The carefree nature of the outer movements is in stark contrast to the minor-key slow movement which has a sense of sorrow and darkness. Mlle de la Salle approached it with seriousness and concentration, giving a poised performance which was moving but sometimes lacked depth.

She was helped tremendously by Sir Andrew and the Philharmonia Orchestra whose fine playing highlighted the  contrasts in instrumental texture, harmony, melody and theme in this life-affirming music.

If Mlle de la Salle is still developing an individual personality as a musician, Sir Andrew is one of the great personalties in classical music, oozing enthusiasm and panache.

This was clearly demonstrated as he took command of the orchestra for the first piece of the evening, Elgar’s In the South, Alassio.

Conducting without a baton, he drew from the string section a warmth of tone that evoked the sunny Italian climes.

This was a well paced and beautifully crafted performance that was most impressive.

For the final piece of the evening we moved from Italy to Britain with Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No 2, London.

Vaughan Williams maintained that this was not a programmatic piece, but it does evoke images of different aspects of London which were delightfully brought to life by Sir Andrew and this fine orchestra.