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Philharmonia Orchestra, Perth Concert Hall

I HAVE to say this: I was shocked at the level of polemical debate going on around me in Perth Concert Hall on Sunday, when Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra, on an intensive all-Beethoven weekend in Scotland that hit Aberdeen and Perth, played Beethoven's Seventh and Fifth Symphonies back to back in the Fair City.

Had it been in Glasgow, relatively a dialectical rough-house, I would have understood; but Perth I associate with more modest and restrained expression. Not on Sunday, where one listener in the good-sized and very involved audience described Salonen's version of the Seventh Symphony's first two movements as "driving with the hand-brake on", while another criticised his tempi throughout, and yet another, cruelly, set about describing how "the SCO would have done this better".

There were indeed some problems in the Seventh Symphony performance, though, for this listener, they resided essentially in the trumpet department, all three of them, who mercilessly blew their flaming tonic-dominant heads off right through the piece, shattering the Philharmonia's legendary unanimity of ensemble and overwhelming the great string section. It was as inappropriate to the piece as it was an outrageous assault on the ears.

I have no idea if the coach had words with the squad at half-time, but in an ultra-dynamic, cumulatively dramatic version of Beethoven's Fifth, order was restored and the trajectory of the symphony properly realised. Salonen was incisive and orchestral playing was astounding in a classic Philharmonia performance that found the incredible intellectual depth of one of the cleverest pieces ever written, and balanced that with the exhilarating, impulsive and energetic volatility of Beethoven's always amazing symphony.

Supported by Dunard Fund.


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