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The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform at Cambridge Corn Exchange

By Jude Clarke

Daniel Kharitonov
Daniel Kharitonov

Last night was the first visit of this year’s Classical Concert Series of orchestra in residence The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. And to kick start the “orchestral” part of the series – after last week’s terrific recital by The Z.E.N. piano trio – we were treated, by organisers Cambridge Live and series sponsors Boldfield Computing – to a programme that could almost be seen in places as a celebration of youthful talent.

When you think “classical music” you most probably think of venerable elder statesmen, grey-haired soloists and veteran conductors. Well last night subverted those expectations on several scores.

The gifted conductor for the evening – Christoph Altstaedt – has himself not yet reached his 40s, and led the orchestra beautifully through its programme of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4 and Dvořák’s Symphony No 7.

The opening piece – a glorious confection, from its delicate wispy opening bars to the joyous bursts of its peaks – was written by Mendelssohn when he was just 17 years old, an astonishing feat in itself. But taken on its own merits, right to the beautiful gentle ending, it’s a fabulous piece of music, somehow managing to actually capture the atmosphere and character of perhaps Shakespeare’s finest “comedy”.

Just one year older than Mendelssohn when he composed that overture, Russian soloist Daniel Kharitonov then burst onto the stage – so keen to reach the piano at its centre and start playing that he strode out almost at running pace. His performance of Beethoven’s work was striking: performing without sheet music the cascades – torrents, even – of music ran effortlessly from his fingertips. He was a noticeably un-showy soloist too, his playing melding and merging beautifully with its orchestral backing where necessary, but then dramatically stepping up during the virtuosic moments when he played unaccompanied.

The encore – Chopin’s Nocturne Op 9 No 2 in E flat major – was just one more demonstration of the young man’s impressive talents, and a beautiful bonus to end the concert’s first half.

Dvořák wrote his Symphony No 7 at the age of 43, so the second half of the evening perhaps took us slightly away from the first half’s youthful theme. It’s an astonishing piece, though, full of gravitas, drama and darkness which make its lighter moments (particularly in the beautiful second movement) shine out all the more brightly. It was an immersive, engrossing and emotionally-resonant end to an evening which had perhaps, ultimately, demonstrated that youth is certainly no barrier to talent, and that music-making (and enjoyment) should be the domain of all age groups.


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