Review: Philharmonia plays Schoenberg, Bartok and Péter Eötvös’s Multiversum

Eötvös isn’t the most inspiring of conductors to watch on the platform. More methodical and pragmatic than inspirational or visionary.

Sure, I know it’s not cricket to be quite so negative. At least, not in the first para of a review. But it is at least honest.

There is more to conducting than merely beating time. And what was striking from the off was how some of the vision was lacking from the podium. And how much I wanted to see it.

Schoenberg’s Film Music

What I perceived to be lacking may have contributed to what felt like a tentative start to the relatively unfamiliar Film Music by Schoenberg. Music written without a film to accompany it, started in 1929 and completed in 1930.

In the performance, some of the entries seemed a little flabby and indistinct, particularly in the upper strings. At times I heard an ensemble mildly out of sync between celli and keyboard too. Some of the drama stitched into Schoenberg’s score was lost somehow. It didn’t quite land in the way I was expecting it too.

Bartok’s Dance Suite and Stravinsky’s Three Movement symphony

Where the Philharmonia came to life was undoubtedly during the Bartok Dance Suite that followed. Here the strings approached the work with attack and a reassuring confidence. What this energy subsequently revealed, as in the Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements that followed, was Eötvös’s tendency to rush the end of phrases and new textural landscapes.

I didn’t want to linger or languish necessarily. I just wanted a moment to savour the delights of some unusual bristling orchestrations. This mattered more to me in the Stravinsky – a glorious combination of colours and surfaces, sights and sounds, all revealed like we’re embarking on a late Sunday afternoon drive around a mysterious unexplored town.

Eötvös’s Multiversum

Where Eötvös was in his element was undoubtedly in the UK premiere of his three movement sound world Multiversum – a musical representation of parallel universes.

I adored it. A captivating and fascinating listen full of complex and thought-provoking orchestrations. A performance begging for an annotated score.

I especially loved the mild acid-trip combination of church and Hammond organ. Reminiscent of family holidays in the late 70s/early 80s, trips made more bearable by a series of Famous Five adventures on cassette tape.

Multiversum was a three-dimensional celebration of sound. Film music without an actual film getting in the way. Loved it.

The Philharmonia performed at the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday 7 February 2019.

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