Brahms, Chopin, Beethoven: the programme of he Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's most recent Cadogan Hall concert, under the baton of Fabien Gabel, was unashamedly mainstream. The opening item of the programme was the Brahms Tragic Overture. The opening strident chords managed to be agitated yet pensive, interrupted silence hanging in the air as each note dissipated once more. The melodic line was expansive and voluptuous, but the real joy in this particular interpretation was the highlighted attention to rhythm: the off-beat textures in the middle did not feel jaggedly spliced into each other, but instead melted into a tumultuous, unstable wall of sound that was positively enticing. The anticipation as the initial theme returned again was handled wonderfully, the tension almost tangible in the hall.

Janina Fialkowska  ©  Christian Steiner
Janina Fialkowska
© Christian Steiner

For the concerto, we were presented with Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (the first he wrote of the two concerti but the second to be published), with pianist Janina Fialkowska joining the RPO as the soloist for the performance. Fialkowska played with an assured quality of tone and the phrases as a whole were beautifully nuanced, but the ornamentation seemed a little harsh for the otherwise pearlescent sound-world – strings of notes were pinballed through at a remarkable speed, but the suppleness and delicacy of the ornaments suffered in favour of the virtuosity. While Fialkowska had sure command of the situation in any and every piece of passagework, it sometimes felt like a race to the finish as opposed to the rise and fall of a sigh, the flourishes not quite translucent enough. Every technical hurdle, however, was made to feel completely non-existent, Fialkowska raging against the orchestra in the forte passages without ever sounding harsh, and her attention to detail in bringing out the individual voices in the more reflective passages was thoughtful and simply stunning.

The second movement fell into much the same category as the first: the trills seemed over-fast for the movement, not the languorous quiver expected so much as a full-speed ahead approach, but the overall sense of line was good, and the unwavering left hand keeping an admirably steady tempo and avoiding the urge to lapse into sugary overindulgence. The third movement was by far the most successful of the three; the charm of the returning rondo lit the room as Fialkowska effortlessly navigated the melodic sweeps, both a cogent part of the orchestra and an entity in her own right; the direct quotes from Chopin’s Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor playful and tongue-in-cheek over the clicking orchestra’s staccato. On the whole, the piece was clearly well thought through and interpreted, but there just needed to be a little more delicacy in the ornamentation.

The finishing item on the programme was the well-known Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6, better known as the ‘Pastoral’ symphony. The opening of the piece felt exuberantly excited in a gentle sense: that is to say the enthusiasm of orchestra and conductor shone through from the first beautifully tailored phrase. The string tremolos felt almost like echoes among the hillsides, and the audience really did find cheerful feelings awakening at arriving in such a pastoral scene. The Scene At The Brook lilted with grace and style, trills from the wind instruments bringing the twittering of brookside animals to life. The third movement bounded along delightfully, the interpretation as merry as the country folk it was portraying. The peaceful calm of the country was ripped in two for the ‘Thunderstorm’, violent chords breaking through the ominous drum rolls and agitated strings. The final movement restored peace to the pastoral scene once more, a broad and expansive view of the shepherds on the rolling hills tailoring off the deliciously interpreted symphony.

At the fervent applause of the audience, Gabel returned to rouse yet more praise by means of an encore, the much loved Mozart Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. Enthusiasm and energy emanated from every note, and it was a wonderful finish to a concert programme made up of so many of the concert hall great composers.

Janina Fialkowska performs ChopinMadelaine Jones reviews the RPO with Fabien Gabel and Janina Fialkowska at Cadogan Hall4