Dudamel in Birmingham with the Philharmonia

I don’t attend concerts very often these days, but I decided to get a ticket for this one at Symphony Hall (3/6/2008). It was under the baton of the Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel. The seat was front row and searching for the right number rivalled looking for that in an aircraft. I still managed to sit in the wrong seat. However the experience was highly rewarding.

The Philharmonia Orchestra played under Karajan at the first concert I attended in the Royal Festival Hall in the 1955-6 season. Clara Haskil was pianist. Not long ago I heard Carlo Maria Guilini conduct them in Birmingham for an all Brahms concert (2nd Piano Concerto and Symphony), all played at a very deliberate pace. Hugh Bean returned as leader. This time it was Brahms First Piano Concerto. I have always preferred the second, but here was a deeply felt reading giving the impression of a first hearing. Dudamel launched the piece with the dark angry chords emphasised. Although the tempo was deliberate there was a clarity where detail could be heard to telling effect. Piotr Anderszewski was soloist, similarly forceful where necessary, but clear and delicate also. Quite honestly it’s the first time I noted a fugue in the finale. Anderszewski rounded off with an encore of solo Bach while Dudamel reclined on the decking among the players.
Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony also made its mark. The performance ranged from breath taking pianissimo to rousing fortissimo, particularly in an exciting finale. Bernard Haitink gave a very different performance with the Concertgebouw Orchestra a few years back but of a similar high quality. Someone warned me that Dudamel distorted rhythm in Shostakovich, but I didn’t detect it here. I was almost expecting salsa to emerge somewhere along the way!

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