Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou
Replacing Esa-Pekka Salonen, if without changing the programme, Paavo Järvi opened with Le tombeau de Couperin, Ravel’s tribute to friends lost in World War One, expressive music located through a Baroque lens. Six movements for piano (1917) became four in orchestral dress (1919). The Philharmonia Orchestra responded super-sensitively to its unexpected if familiar guest-conductor, Järvi choosing well-judged tempos to keep things bubbling along and on-track without denuding the score’s veiled tears (especially in the ‘Menuet’) and the need for crisp but not robotic articulation; very nimble playing was required during the final ‘Rigaudon’.
Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto (1933) is a miscellany of moods – sardonic, mournful, slapstick comedy… spiced with more than a spoonful of parody while avoiding charges of ‘copy and paste’ – and they need to be brought out. This account spearheaded by Benjamin Grosvenor initially lacked a certain degree of knife-edge incident, which was found more by the Philharmonia’s strings and by Jason Evans (the Orchestra’s principal trumpet – he was fearless and brilliant), yet there was no denying the pianist’s fastidiousness or his shapely phrasing especially during slow(er) music. The Finale, with its humorous diversions and silent-film-music elements, brought some dazzling responses from the by-now fired-up protagonists.
It may be Mozart’s ultimate Symphony but the ‘Jupiter’ (1788) is far from being the composer’s final work (in Köchel’s catalogue it is entry 551 out of 626). From Järvi and the Philharmonia there was a rousing rasp from trumpets and timpani in the first movement, quite driven if flexible in tempo, tutti force contrasted with a lighter touch and some lovely speckled woodwind detailing, to which the slow movement was riposted as a thing of wonder, fluidly poetic and burdened emotionally. Following a Minuet and Trio that lilted along delightfully, the great Finale was somewhat whipped through (if with poise and clarity) losing just a little of its majesty, yet the exuberance was exhilarating … but then came disaster! … having been generous with repeats thus far (including in the Andante) Järvi omitted the Finale’s second half repetition and diminished the Symphony’s scale and his impressive view of it.