Eroica Symphony

Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 4 April, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Classical programmes do not come any more ‘central’ than this. In these circumstances even the very good can be disappointing, whether caused by an inattentive audience or the music’s potential not being fully explored. This was emphatically not the case here, the Philharmonia Orchestra at its very best. Indeed there was something nostalgic about this concert, which harked back to the orchestra’s golden days; it is to Christoph von Dohnányi’s credit that he has safeguarded that legacy.

Frank Peter Zimmermann is one of supreme ‘classical’ stylists who inhabit the core German repertoire from the inside. One of the most satisfying aspects of this reading was a complete fusion between soloist, conductor and orchestra. Tempos were moderate throughout but always forward-moving, never becoming becalmed, even in the more ruminative stretches of the first movement. Dohnányi brought heft, passion and sensitivity to the orchestral part, and seamless joins, whilst Zimmermann was exceptionally assured above the stave. There was real frisson to Joachim’s first movement cadenza, its immediate aftermath eliciting a magically hushed response from the orchestra, some of that awe carrying over into the slow movement and an impressive oboe solo from Gordon Hunt.

These same forces performed the Eroica less than a year ago in the currently closed Royal Festival Hall and it was instructive to hear it again in the more confined spaces of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It would be presumptuous to expect much change in the outline of Dohnányi’s interpretation, which means his choice of tempos was an object lesson. The first movement was moderate enough to allow for integration of the second subject without loss of impetus; the second movement was a Funeral March ‘from beginning to end’; the scherzo was amazingly swift (the horns despatching the trio section with almost raucous glee); and the finale was propulsive.

When the first movement’s repeat was taken, there was a palpable ratcheting-up of tension, and most impressive was the sense of an unbroken line, of an unstoppable forward momentum, the aural equivalent of an avalanche. Also notable throughout was the most precise attention to dynamics – and not the obvious differentiation between f and ff. Indicative of this care, there are but two examples where Beethoven indicates sempre più forte (in the Funeral March and in the finale’s close). Normally this marking goes for little; here they emerged with devastating clarity. One or two minor slips apart this was orchestral playing at the highest level, completely at the service of the music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This
Skip to content