The chameleon-like Philharmonia responded wonderfully well to Polish-born (now German citizen) Janowskis totally professional conducting every gesture meant something within the fabric of the music; the playing was beautiful, buoyant and detailed.
Janowski has a knack of making textures lucid without drawing attention to them. Throughout the concerto there were numerous touches in the woodwinds this section in peerless form that are rarely heard, or certainly as meaningfully as here. And such a beguiling orchestral commentary only set into relief how impersonal Zimmermann was. Janowski unfolded an orchestral introduction beautifully modulated between sweetness and purpose; Zimmermanns first entry so lacked confidentiality that the orchestras gambit seemed irrelevant.
Zimmermann has a fabulous technique, and with it a definite sense of order and meticulous preparation but no sense of fantasy or extemporisation. Although the brisk tempo for the first movement, just over 20 minutes (including a lengthy unidentified cadenza), had a feeling of rightness (this concerto is synonymous with lyrical space and deep searching; probably not Beethovens intention), there was no real contrast with the succeeding slow movement, which refused deliberate tread until the still-centre of reflection bought welcome musing. The big miscalculation was the Finale, which was rushed. Zimmermann had the virtuosity to bring it off but at the cost of losing short notes in the urgency in all things, including music, the small print matters. Zimmermann seemed more concerned with technical address than musical probing; the Paganini-element of the cadenzas summarised his approach.
Janowskis superb conducting whetted the appetite for the symphony; in the event this was only partially met. The stumbling-block, again, was the Finale. Despite the Philharmonias nimbly agile playing, this didnt compensate for lack of characterisation; indeed there were moments that sounded hard-pressed, and the clarinet and bassoon interjections towards the close were all but lost in the melee.
If, as the symphony progressed, it seemed (despite all repeats observed) more and more one-dimensional and small-scale, this was due to Janowskis pushing the music on. There was little respite from a fleet first movement to a lyrically impulsive slow movement, yet, here, Janowskis turn into more wistful contemplation was exquisitely judged, Barnaby Robsons clarinet solos gratefully reciprocal.
As with the concerto, the first movement was marvellously realised. From a sustained and subtly-shaded slow introduction, the Allegro flew into life. Janowskis spectral traversal delighted the ear in its exact dovetailing of strings and wind, dynamic contrasts, and no lack of expression. Greater variety of equilibrium-related pulse between the movements would have brought a bigger dimension; one certainly attainable but overlooked this evening.
Hopefully Janowski will be invited back to the Philharmonia and not just because he was able to rescue a concert. As a 4-CD set of live performances with Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France shows (Le Chant du Monde CMX 378081.84 Brahms to Wagner via Bruckner, Debussy, Sibelius and others), Janowski is a versatile and thoughtful musician who really should be a more regular visitor to London than hitherto.
- This rescued Beethoven cycle continues on Thursday, 14 March, with Matthias Bamert conducting Symphony No.5; Murray Perahia plays Piano Concerto No.4
- Box Office: 020 7960 4201 www.rfh.org.uk