The Philharmonia Review

The Philharmonia

Reviewed by Dee Ellis

Bedford Corn Exchange
Friday 15th February 2013
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Beethoven Overture, Fidelio
Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2
Tchaikovsky Symphony No.4

The Philharmonia is one of Bedford's best kept secrets for those who didn't know that each month we have in our home town, this supremely talented arrangement of orchestral talent. Formed in 1945, then conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, the Philharmonia's residency was confirmed in Bedford in the mid 90's. Since then the average attendance at concerts has more than doubled, and last night was no different with a sell-out performance at the Corn Exchange to celebrate Valentine's Day.

This beautiful venue in the heart of Bedford Town Centre is perfectly suited (albeit not particularly comfortably seated) for the orchestral perfection that is the Philharmonia. 

The evening began with Beethoven's Overture from Fidelio, such a captivating piece, gorgeously played.  I closed my eyes and found myself transported to 19th century Vienna whilst enjoying the musical feast of this tantalising piece conducted by accomplished musical director, Edward Gardner.

We moved to Shostakovich's piano concerto no. 2, performed exquisitely by Russian American pianist Kirill Gerstein.  This heart-warming piece was in fact written for Shostakovich's son's 19th birthday but was romantically styled and suited for a Valentine's Day celebration. Revealing a mesmerising ability, this charming piano piece was played flawlessly and effortlessly by Gerstein who couldn't resist an encore, treating us to a Russian Melody leading in to the interval.

After the break, we stood to attention for the seemingly military magnificence that is Pyotr Tchaikovsky's 19th century Symphony no. 4. This powerful piece is scored for piccolo, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, trombones and tuba accompanied by timpani, bass drum, triangle, cymbals and of course strings. Although you could be led to believe this music was designed to celebrate perhaps the triumph of war, the battle itself was the composer's disastrous marriage and his survival from it. Echoing his most intimate thoughts and emotions, these are most certainly reflected in this piece. The explosive final movement engages the orchestra in a glorious argument, frantically fought between the strings and wind instruments – but don't be fooled in to thinking this "tit-for-tat" represents a cacophony of noise; it is beautifully orchestrated to lead you in to the chaos of Tchaikovsky's mind at the time, culminating in an explosion of music and triumph merged with tranquillity you can't help but enjoy.

A beautiful evening and a must see.

Rating: 5/5

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