Saturday, October 29, 2005

The nice surprise I mentioned

After - how many?! oh no!! - decades of living in London and attending its various flawed concert halls, I had a huge surprise the other day. Tom's orchestra, the London Philharmonic, is (like its sister Philharmonia) currently homeless while the Royal Festival Hall undergoes its long-awaited refurbishment. So they're playing next door at the Queen Elizabeth Hall instead. Normally I loathe the QEH. It's a miserable concrete monstrosity and its gloomy interior induces little other than sleepy ennuie.....well, until now. What happened? They've opened up the platform so that it's far deeper than usual; they've put up some wooden acoustic stuff (looks a little like stacked up coffins) to the back and sides and - bingo! The band and Vassily Sinaisky started up some lovely Glinka and there was the sound we'd always wanted. Resonant. Warm. Clear. Close. Wallow-in-able. Glorious. Right there in our very own QEH. I was speechless.

Great concert too - another first was hearing Tchaikovsky's Third Symphony live in a concert hall. A work I've always loved from recordings but one that never normally gets played, except for the New York City Ballet performing Balanchine's 'Jewels'. Tchaikovsky in a good mood is such a rarity that it's surprising nobody makes the most of it when it happens, as it undoubtedly does here. The nickname 'Polish' makes me laugh, though, because - except for the Polonaise in the last movement - this music is so terrifically, unmistakeably Russian...

The evening was only marred a little by the Dvorak Cello Concerto, played passably - I use this word with reason, as you'll see in a mo - by the LPO's quasi-resident soloist, Pieter Wispelwey. He's a handsome Dutch fellow (peculiarly resembling a leading British politician) who is very good at Bach in period style. No reason, I guess, why he should have a grander concept of the Dvorak, given that his natural bent is clearly not for romanticism. But hear that famous recording of Slava playing his guts out, and one wonders why anything less would ever do. Playing aside, Wispelwey's facial expressions - ranging from apparent surprise to intense frustration to incipient apoplexy - conjured up for me startlingly marvellous images of Tony Blair in need of prunes.

UPDATE: SUNDAY MORNING - Here's Anna Picard's review of the concert from The Independent - she has less time than me for the QEH acoustics, and more for Wispelwey's playing, but her impression of his face is even more extreme than mine...!