For Lorin Maazel, Bach is a Romantic whose formality appeals the most, the dance elements a means to an end. This was old-fashioned Bach expressive, sweet-toned, time taken played with reduced forces and rhythmical smoothness. There was nothing grander in the evening than the opening Ouverture, yet there was little gravitas a dichotomy underlined by poor string balancing that left a handful of violas, cellos and basses, and the decorous well-tempered harpsichord, stranded by sixteen grouped-together violins (10 firsts, 6 seconds itself an imbalance). Meinhart Niedermayr is a wonderful artist yet in his discretion he rarely gave more than top-line colouring, which seemed a waste. The popular final Badinerie delighted in its steady tempo and articulacy not the case for the second encore, a gallery-pleasing Mozart Figaro overture taken at breakneck speed to no musical effect. The little G minor was more considered yet its emotion-spilling was restrained by a velvet underlay of middle frequencies. The syncopation that closes the exposition of the Finale needs more time to bite; and if Maazel pushed the Andante along quite convincingly, the harmonically-pungent but timbrally-recessed four horns (a notable bit of scoring for the time) rather summed up this quick-fire, dispassionate rendition.
Mendelssohn fared altogether better. Its not the fault of the unfairly-maligned RFH acoustic its truthful clarity and natural tones make for exact listening that the Scottish overture lacked atmosphere, though there was no shortage of incident as Maazel revealed all the ingredients needed for orchestral tone-painting of the highest order. Off to Italy. Given without the exposition repeat, despite the lead-back bars Mendelssohn troubled to write, it took until the recapitulation of the first movement for Maazel to add delectation to the precision and energy present from the off. The middle movements came off especially well an intense account of the Andante con moto (taken as exactly that), neither nocturne or sanctimonious (there seems little credence in it being thought a night-time pilgrims march), followed by an elegantly turned and tenderly confided Con moto moderato, Maazel introducing thoughtful dynamic variation to the expressive curve. The final Salterello spun along agilely, its trace elements acutely balanced; so too the Scherzo from A Midsummer Nights Dream (the first encore), a perfect, no-rush tempo if a lack of elfin lightness.
- The VPO returns for a RFH double-header on September 16/17 Mariss Jansons conducts Mendelssohn, Haydn and Stravinsky (16th); Christian Thielemann leads Mendelssohn and Strauss the following night
- Box Office: 020 7960 4201 www.rfh.org.uk booking opens on 7 May