Tchaikovsky
Romeo and Juliet
The Storm
Schumann
Violin Concerto in D minor
Janacek
Sinfonietta

London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ingo Metzmacher with Joshua Bell (violin)
When I interviewed Ingo Metzmacher a year or so ago, he enthused about the German conducting tradition, for him epitomised by Fritz Busch, Otto Klemperer and, as a contemporary figure, Michael Gielen – this trio of maestri are linked by their structural focus on the scores they interpret and for not using conducting as a ’show for themselves’. Metzmacher is very much in this mould.
In addition to the classics he conducts a great deal of contemporary music, but there’s no barriers between the centuries or styles. When we spoke he was forthright that the music of Stockhausen, Nono, Boulez, Berio, Carter and Birtwistle will easily survive; equally he would be happy to stage West Side Story or Oklahoma at Hamburg’s State Opera where he is Music Director. A glance at his 2000/1 schedule finds him conducting in Berlin, Boston, Pittsburgh, Vienna and London and spending a considerable amount of time leading opera and concerts at his Hamburg base. He likes to integrate composers in his concerts. This season in Hamburg, Robert Schumann and Bernd Alois Zimmermann are placed together, as are Beethoven, Wagner and Stockhausen; in the pit, he’s leading Lohengrin, The Rake’s Progress and Boris Godunov – he also has a Bernstein Night planned. Having recorded the eight symphonies of Karl Amadeus Hartmann (for EMI) – a link between Mahler, the Second Viennese School and post-war modernism - he continues to bring this repertoire to the concert hall.
In the last of the LPO’s mini-series Sleeping Beauties – in which a selection of major composers’ scores, which have been unjustly overshadowed by their most celebrated pieces, have been dusted down – Ingo Metzmacher re-assessed Schumann’s still-neglected Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s The Storm, the latter added after the original programme details had been published.
Metzmacher’s account of Romeo and Juliet was as musical as one could wish for. I felt though that he could have allowed the love-music a little more expansiveness and brought more drama to the closing stages; it was though commendably cohesive and logical, if just a little emotionally contained. The Storm, which opened the concert’s second part, was just as structurally taut but more overtly dramatic. I’ve a soft spot for this early (but given a late opus-number - 76) tone-poem after Ostrovsky’s play. Metzmacher certainly relished the dark and threatening atmosphere that pervades this splendid work and he was particularly keen to reveal the lucidity of the composer’s text – such ear-opening textures as trombone pedal-points I’d not registered before were gratefully received; come the close, Metzmacher was especially successful at releasing the claustrophobic air that permeates this piece when redemption is achieved through death – great theatre from an experienced opera conductor. A ’sleeping beauty’ revived in glory.
His conducting for Joshua Bell of the original sleeping beauty for this concert, Schumann’s posthumous Violin Concerto, was full of discreet touches, which were nicely balanced between direction and fantasy, with Metzmacher displaying an instinctive feel for expressive and subjective harmonic punctuation. Bell’s light-tone and quicksilver bowing is admirable for this quixotic music but more nerve-ends would have added the composer’s heart and fragility of mind.
The Janacek ended the concert in fine style, the thirteen extra brass – nine trumpets, two bass trumpets and two tenor tubas – were placed in the choir-seating area and joined their orchestral colleagues for a stirring sound. Metzmacher seemed to be working from a new critical edition – glockenspiel replaced tubular bells in the fourth movement (I’m not convinced!) and there were two cymbal clashes instead of one heralding the return of the fanfare at the finish, which was effective. Elsewhere, Metzmacher focussed on the notes rather than indulging the sound. This was an expressive performance, one that clarified details and made the most of metrical contrasts. Metzmacher wasn’t going to spoil Janacek’s grand design by stretching a phrase unduly or picking out a colour for particular comment. Metzmacher doesn’t insist on forcing things or asking for passages to be played louder or faster than they need to be. This long-term discretion is to be admired, and if his conducting style is first and only for the musicians, he’s not shy from crouching down if he wants things played quieter. This Sinfonietta was both impressive and satisfying; Metzmacher is a musician to be reckoned with – he’s not going to wow his audiences with visual or aural histrionics. I like him.

The London Philharmonic’s next RFH concert is this Saturday, 27 January, when Kent Nagano conducts Rossini’s Overture to William Tell, Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, K466 (Till Fellner) and Shostakovich’s Symphony No.15
Ingo Metzmacher conducts the LPO again on 21 April – RFH – in Thomas Ades’s Asyla, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2 (Andreas Haefliger) and Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben
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