Berlin Symphony Orchestra at Cadogan Hall – 2

Symphony No.88 in G
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)

Natasha Paremski (piano)

Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Lothar Zagrosek

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 7 March, 2009
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Lothar ZagrosekFor the second of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra’s short residency at Cadogan Hall, Lothar Zagrosek commenced with one of the most popular of Haydn’s symphonies. No.88 offers a distillation of the Classical style, without that ‘playing to the public’ that can occasionally mar the London Symphonies, such as this account underlined with a perfectly gauged transition from the first movement Adagio introduction into an Allegro that was appealingly lithe and uninhibited. Save for a lack of blending in the presentation of its main theme on solo cello and oboes, the Largo was finely delivered – not least the portentous fortissimo chords which twice interrupt its progress, here without any hint of self-consciousness. Zagrosek then brought out just the right dancing lilt in the Minuet, the ‘bagpipe’ drone of its trio section rendered with a tangible immediacy, before a finale that rightly made much of Haydn’s ceaselessly inventive play on its indelible rhythmic profile.

Natasha Paremski. ©2007 Leslie Van SteltenThis performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto marked the London concerto debut of Natasha Paremski. In that its demands are far removed from that of virtuoso display, this was a laudable choice and Paremski’s interpretation offered its share of insight, as well as a genuine pianissimo (difficult to achieve in the immediacy of Cadogan Hall’s acoustic). The first movement cadenza (the more often played of the two left by the composer) was finely integrated into the overall discourse, although, in the coda both here and in the finale, Paremski seemed too self-absorbed to take sufficient note of the orchestra – some astute adjustment from Zagrosek being needed to keep the performers aligned. Yet the deftly nuanced interplay between piano and strings in the slow movement, as well as a finale that made the most of the music’s inherent élan without ever indulging in unnecessary point-making, indicated this as a work which Paremski may one day make her own.

The second half brought as fine an account of Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony as can have been heard in London during recent years. Less often heard than it once was, this is the only completed symphony of its composer’s full maturity, and even then went through a lengthy gestation before its premiere in 1842. Audibly inspired by his journey to Scotland at the end of the 1820s, the piece has a density of argument and weight of expression that no doubt needed time and experience to ripen. A summation of what Mendelssohn had achieved up to this time, it could also be a statement of intent for where he was headed – for all that a subsequent symphony barely got beyond the planning stage.

Its introduction fateful but never portentous, the first movement unfolded as a powerfully judged and cumulative whole (no need for an exposition repeat, as Zagrosek rightly surmised) in which emotional rhetoric and symphonic logic – notably in the development and coda – were tightly integrated. Fleet and capricious, the scherzo was a delight (and Zagrosek tellingly observed the attacca between each movement), while the pathos of the Adagio – touchstone of many such movements by well-intentioned British composers from the latter nineteenth-century – was leavened by a sense of the ominous such that it never risked sentimentality. Zagrosek set a forthright tempo for the finale to which the Berlin strings were more than equal. The transition to the coda had the right sense of expectancy, while the ensuing peroration captured the intended jubilance without risking too much in the way of bombast.

Nothing can prevent the coda from highlighting the disparity Mendelssohn must have felt between his stature as a composer and his standing as a performer, and this year provides an opportunity to revive Otto Klemperer’s conclusion (as captured on a Bavarian Radio tape) which is far more in keeping with the work’s essentially tragic cast. Which is not to denigrate what was otherwise a convincing and finely executed performance.

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