Royal Philharmonic Dazzling
Chopin starred in a dazzling Royal Philharmonic
Polish plano star Janina Fialkowska plays sublimely
Last night’s Royal Philharmonic concert came straight out of the top drawer like a box of tempting chocolates, a joyous fascinating and brilliantly played collection of magical music.
The RPO, performing a dramatic Beethoven and a sublime Chopin concerto equisitely played by Janina Fialkowska, changed a dull November evening into a dazzling celebration and the audience in a near-capacity Corn Exchange loved every minute.
Do we realize just what an amazing gift we have when the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra now regularly rocks up for a top-of-the-range performance every few weeks? Why they’ve settled on Cambridge is a mystery. Used to playing in the grandest concert halls of Europe, the Corn Exchange is hardly tempting for an international outfit as prestigious as the RPO. And getting here is no easy ride either. Yesterday afternoon, I spotted the great navy blue pantechnicon the orchestra uses to transport their massive stack of music stands, chairs and instruments, trundling on its way down Trumpington Street. Emblazoned with the royal crest in silver, even the van was impressive. But when you turn to their world-wide popularity in destinations from Montreux to Montreal to Moscow, it becomes more and more marvelous that this year The Royal Phil put Cambridge on their musical map.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s solemn, sonorous Corialan Overture – searingly dramatic chords boomed and bounced back from the brick walls of the Corn Exchange. Here was Beethoven in heavy-duty form for General Corialanus is besieging Rome and about to bring the Imperial city to its knees. Only the passionate intervention of his mother saves the day – and the life of the hero her only son. In a short skilful performance we experienced the full force of Beethoven’s musical ferocity. Maestro Barry Wordsworth’s quirkily modern outfit abandoned the tradition of the glamorous tail coat and white tie, but it’s hard cavil about clothes to a conductor as experienced and controlled as this veteran of five Ballet companies who has topped his achievement with a best-selling recording of Last Night of the Proms with BrynTerfel. No doubt about it, the audience were in expert hands.
And 'expert' has to be one word to described the lovely star of the main piece Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2, Janina Fialkowska. For 40 years her exquisite piano playing has delighted audiences world-wide. She brings a tender and beautiful style to Chopin’s delicate work and it is sheer delight to listen to the lyrical playing of a woman of 65 years old who carries the grace and insight of her age with such a warming confidence.
'Imagine a boy of eighteen in love for the first time then add the fact that this boy happens to be a musical genius -- and you get the Chopin F minor Concerto a piece of total perfection, full of melodies to melt your heart,' she explains.
The introduction is lovely – unexpected appearances by the French horn and tympany simply add to the delight, but when Janina crouches over her keyboard and begins to play, a whole new dimension suffuses the work.
Poor Chopin, a genius for all time but he began to find playing his own work increasingly hard. People walked out of his concerts saying they couldn’t hear. Heartbroken he found refuge in that most lovely of cities, Paris, where he at last found a willing audience in small salons and at last the love of his life, the remarkable cross-dressing Countess ‘George Sand’. All the complexity of suffering to come – Chopin died at the age of 34 racked with illness – finds a way into this concerto of his youth. As Janina Fialkowska says, 'To play this piece so full of emotion and excitement is a dream come true for a pianist. For the audience it will hopefully be a total delight.'
It was. Janina’s Chopin was the stand out memory of a joyful evening of quiet beauty.