The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London covered a lot of ground in Royce Hall on Tuesday night. It started by paying tribute to Aaron Copland, turned into a father-and-son act with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, tried desperately to make something of Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony and ended as a pop concert with three ultra-pop encores.
The Royal Philharmonic, founded by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1946, was last heard here in Royce Hall in 1969, Antal Dorati conducting. The conductor of the present concert was Yehudi Menuhin; the soloist was his 30-year-old son Jeremy Menuhin. The latter confrontation was something like that of the aging Wotan and the stripling Siegfried. As in Wagner, youth won the contest.
Any nasty suspicion that the junior Menuhin was sitting center stage at the Steinway because he is the son of the conductor was speedily dispelled. He is a pianist who can hold his own in distinguished company. He is admirably serious in intent and execution; he has no traffic with anything resembling superficial mannerism. His fingers are fleet and sure, his tone is crisp and deftly modulated, and his sense of Beethoven style is cultivated, intelligent and unfailingly musical.
An encore after such a satisfying performance of the Beethoven Fourth could be presumptuous even considering the cordial audience reception. But no one resented it because Debussy's "Jardins sous la pluie" showed that Menuhin has a lively sense of color and rhythm, and that his fingers are obedient no matter what the task.
The senior Menuhin's rough and ready conducting put the Royal Philharmonic at an insurmountable disadvantage. There was constant noisy overplaying, little evidence of instilled orchestral discipline, only minimal gestures toward balanced ensemble or dynamic subtleties. One could only guess at the possible present potential of the orchestra under expert guidance.
Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," as well as many later examples, stretched to extreme limits Royce Hall's capacities for absorbing sheer noise. "Quiet City" established little of the typical Copland atmosphere. In the softer sections the accompaniment to the Beethoven was acceptable, but not the rough playing of the tuttis.
Menuhin could do little more for the "Pathetique" than to beat time, and that was often rushed. The climaxes were loud, unrefined and meaningless, the lyric moments flat and unmoving.
But none of that deterred the conductor from three encores: a slow account of Schubert's "Moment Musical" in F minor, and fast and rackety treatments of Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5 and Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 1.