London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Dome

March 17, 2013



Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Schumann, Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129
Elgar, Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op. 36

David Parry (conductor)
Narek Hakhnazaryan (cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra


I was pleasantly surprised to see such a full audience on a cold, wet and windy night in Brighton to hear the London Philharmonic Orchestra perform, conducted by David Parry.  True, the programme was a crowd pleaser – Beethoven 5, Schumann’s Cello Concerto and Elgar’s Enigma Variations – ‘nothing we can’t hum there’, to quote Victoria Wood.  But the performances this evening were anything but workaday, and all three pieces were extremely warmly received.

The Beethoven began slightly scrappily, with the ensemble not quite there for the iconic opening motif.  However, once the orchestra had settled into Parry’s sprightly tempo, they warmed to the task, and this turned out to be a highly enjoyable performance, surprisingly fresh and full of life.  The wind playing was particularly strong – this proved to be the case throughout the evening in fact.  The brief oboe solo before the recapitulation in the first movement was sensitively played, and the whole wind section relished the beautiful chamber-like passages in the slow movement.  I thought Parry also brought out the dance in the lilting opening cello line rather nicely here.  Again, string ensemble was not 100% tight in the scherzo – this time in the cellos.  I wonder if Parry’s tempi were faster than the LPO are used to – although I’m sure they were capable of the challenge he set, and the pace certainly give the necessary energy and spirit to what could have otherwise been just another Beethoven 5.  However, they all took flight in the lively finale, bringing the symphony to its emphatic and triumphant close.

The Schumann Cello Concerto followed, with the 25-year-old Armenian cellist, Narek Hakhnazaryan.  This  is an interesting work, with the three movements running with no breaks between, and with a surprising lack of virtuosity in the solo part.  For most of the time, it is the lyricism of the cello that is emphasised, and the orchestra takes a back seat, allowing the cello lines to sing.  However, for me, I’m never quite sure where this piece is going, with the result that when they arrive in the lively finale, and the pace picks up, it almost comes as a bit of a surprise.  Hakhnazaryan exploited the romantic lyricism to the full, producing a beautiful tone, and managing the balance issues well, ably assisted by Parry keeping the orchestral dynamics in check.  So, some beautiful playing here, but a performance somehow slightly lacking in life.  Interestingly, however, we were then treated to an encore from Hakhnazaryan, and here one felt he finally was able to let loose.  The piece was not announced, so I’m not sure what it was, but I’m assuming it is Armenian, and may well have been written or improvised by Hakhnazaryan.  Here his virtuosity was allowed to show in all its glory – the piece open with him vocalising over the top of double-stopping, and he then managed to include virtually every cello technique in the few minutes that followed.  Here was the energy and life that I would have liked to have seen in the Schumann, and the audience certainly loved this too.

After the interval, the orchestra returned for Elgar’s Enigma Variations.  Once again, there was lots here that took this beyond a standard rendition of a popular classic, and again, this was largely due to the energetic tempi set by Parry.  Sadly, he was forced to wait at the start as some particularly persistent coughers prevented him from creating the silence he wanted for the opening.  However, with this put behind them, this settled into a very enjoyable performance.  Some of the same features from the Beethoven were present here, and again, it was the wind playing that stood out for me, with some particularly tight ensemble playing in Variation III (R.B.T.).  Once again the sprightly tempi resulted in a few moments of scrappy string ensemble, notably in the violins at the start of Variation II (H.D.S-P.).  However, this was a small detail, and elsewhere the strings produced warm Elgarian tones, and certainly enjoyed themselves in the famous ‘Nimrod’, Variation IX, with David Parry controlling this well, avoiding over-indulgence yet allowing for the undeniable emotion to be released.  The principal Viola (Gilliane Haddow) and Cello (Francis Bucknall) are both worthy of mention for their solos, the viola in Variation VI (Isobel) and again briefly in Variation XII (B.G.N.), and the cello in Variation X (Intermezzo: Dorabella).  Parry then brought the evening to a rousing close, with a rip-roaring finale.