It might look as though the Philharmonia Orchestra is doing Gustavo Dudamel a favour by offering him concerts, but do not be deceived. With dates at the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic in his diary for next season, it might be truer to say that Dudamel is doing them a favour by turning up.
Still in his mid-20s, Dudamel remains the youngest international conductor on the block. His career is hurtling forwards at breakneck speed, as does his music-making. His programmes for the Philharmonia have been chosen to reflect his personality. Thursday’s concert opened with Nielsen’s Helios Overture, in which the sun rises and sets, passing through its day-long cycle in 12 minutes. Dudamel charted its course clear-headedly, but the music’s midday blaze sounded unpleasantly noisy and congested – not a good pointer for what was to come.
In Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.3, Dudamel was well paired with the pianist Boris Berezovsky. The fistfuls of notes in this concerto may scare some pianists, but Berezovsky is not one of them. Having set himself a punishing pace soon after the outset, he rarely let up in his drive to the score’s high points. There was barely time to let out a nostalgic sigh for the late romantic world of melancholy that was eluding us as the semiquavers went rattling past in this uncompromising performance. Berezovsky’s encore – a light-fingered, not-too-sweet breeze through Rachmaninov’s E flat Prelude Op.23 No.6 – came like balm afterwards.
Similarly, it is when his adrenalin is at maximum that Dudamel is most himself, and there were passages in Sibelius’s Symphony No.5 after the interval that really achieved lift-off – the end of the first movement went up like a rocket. But too much of the rest was unstructured noise, every instrument for himself, like the climax of the Nielsen, and not well played by the Philharmonia. We can only hope that conductor and orchestra will enjoy better nights together in the future than this.
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