The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Charles Dutoit © Robert Taylor
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Charles Dutoit
© Robert Taylor

A newlywed bride is brought home to find her husband’s castle plunged in darkness and persuades him to open seven doors to let the light flood in. Blood-red light streams across the stage as the first door is unlocked to reveal a torture chamber. This scene has to be from Bartók’s one-act opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, and as each successive door is opened, the surprises continue. The opera is rarely staged but – with effective lighting – can make a huge psychological impact in the concert hall. It is possibly the pick of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s new season, when it is performed at the Royal Festival Hall under its Principal Conductor Charles Dutoit.

It will undoubtedly benefit from being performed by two native Hungarians. Mezzo-soprano Andrea Maláth has been a permanent guest artist at the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest since 1998 and has been singing the role of Judit, Bluebeard’s fourth wife, since 2001. Bass Bálint Szabó is an experienced of the role of Bluebeard, having performed it around the world. To complete an all-Hungarian programme, the RPO plays the “Rákóczy March” from Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust and Marc-André Hamelin joins the orchestra for Liszt’s dazzling Piano Concerto no. 2 in A major. There’s sure to be plenty of paprika in the air for this concert in which Dutoit is leading his orchestra at the Festival Hall.

Pinchas Zukerman © Cheryl Mazak
Pinchas Zukerman
© Cheryl Mazak

Some distinguished conductors join the RPO next season. Pinchas Zukerman, more usually known for his peerless playing of the violin and viola, is the orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor. He appears in both guises next season; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the highlight of his October concert at the Festival Hall, which also includes Malcolm Forsyth’s final work, The Ballad of Canada, which Zukerman premièred in 2011. Elgar’s sublime Violin Concerto allows Zukerman to appear as soloist with the RPO in April. "It's good! awfully emotional! too emotional, but I love it," wrote Elgar. The work was very dear to him, not least because of the infamous “Windflower” theme which alludes to his close friendship with Alice Stuart-Wortley.

Romanian conductor Cristian Mandeal conducts César Franck’s sole Symphony, which doesn’t feature in concert programmes as it would have done in 1946, when Sir Thomas Beecham formed the orchestra. The core repertoire which is part of the RPO’s rich heritage packs out the season, with Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Brahms and Dvorak much in evidence.

Young artists to watch out for in the season include French conductor Fabien Gabel, a former winner of the Donatella Flick conducting competition in London, who resumes his partnership with Russian-American pianist Natasha Paremski in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in B flat minor, a work they have recorded with the orchestra. Paremski also appears later in the season in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto and Brahms’ First. Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu performs another evergreen concerto, Edvard Grieg’s, which is paired in concert with Dvořák’s sunny Seventh Symphony. Another rising star is soprano Eleanor Dennis, who has impressed Bachtrack reviewers with her Handel; she performs Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs, a perennial concert favourite, with respected British conductor Martyn Brabbins.

Among the star soloists on the RPO’s roster, Leon McCawley plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23 in A major, a work composed around the time of The Marriage of Figaro and which contains a particularly joyous rondo finale. The penultimate concert of the season is an all-British affair, with mezzo Sarah Connolly performing Elgar’s Sea Pictures, an orchestral song cycle which includes a setting of the poem ‘In haven’, written by the composer’s wife, Alice. Walton’s choral epic Belshazzar’s Feast should round the concert off in splendid style.

The RPO doesn’t remain within the confines of its Cadogan Hall home, with five concerts in the Royal Festival Hall and it takes to the road for concerts in Cambridge, Guildford, High Wycombe, Ipswich and Lowestoft.