Mackerras Memorial Concert – review

Royal Festival Hall, London

The two orchestras Charles Mackerras conducted regularly in London were the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia. He had been booked to make an appearance with the Philharmonia last week, but following his death in July the concert was transformed into a memorial, with the OAE joining the Philharmonia to pay tribute to one of the greatest musicians of our time.

A single concert, even one lasting more than three hours, was hardly long enough to celebrate a conductor of such wide-ranging enthusiasms. But the programme had to begin with Handel, and the OAE under Stephen Devine played the Music for the Royal Fireworks, and accompanied arias from Messiah and Samson, sung by Mhairi Lawson, before the Philharmonia took over for the remainder of the evening.

But the performance of Dvorák's Seventh Symphony, conducted by Tomá˘s Netopil, music director of the National theatre in Prague, was routine rather than engaged. It wasn't until the final section of the evening that the music-making really took off, when Julian Rachlin and Lawrence Power joined the orchestra for Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola K364, the only work surviving from Mackerras's original programme, with Rachlin's edgy, slightly metallic sound the perfect foil to the warmth and generosity of Power's playing.

Then it was Alexander Briger's turn on the podium. He is Mackerras's nephew, and revealed that his uncle had told him that the life-affirming finale of Janácek's Cunning Little Vixen was his favourite music, and asked for it to be played at his memorial service. So it ended this concert, with Thomas Allen returning to the role of the Gamekeeper he sang so gloriously under Mackerras, and the treble Sebastian Cox as the Frog, before something completely different as an encore: part of Pineapple Poll, the ballet Mackerras extracted from Gilbert and Sullivan.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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