Great Performers – 14th June Concert (another point of view)

Picture of Christoph von Dohnányi

Musique funèbre (in memory of Bartók)
Violin Concerto No.2
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73

Gil Shaham (violin)
The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 14 June, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The same hallmarks that had distinguished the previous night’s Bruckner 8 – discernment, clarity and wholeness – paid dividends throughout this concert, Dohnányi’s final one as Music Director.

Lutoslawski’s tribute to Bartók was neatly paired with the latter’s concerto. The former displayed the sensitivity and virtuosity of the Cleveland’s strings in this arch-like piece that achingly intensifies from, and returns to, a lone cello; the fevered music of the middle and the note-cluster climax was thrilling. Thrilling too, if not wholly apposite, was Gil Shaham’s Bartók. Played with tremendous vitality and technical wizardry, Shaham didn’t always penetrate into the darker, personal aspects of the music. Standing close to Dohnányi, if walking his lead at times, he was integrated into the orchestral fabric – itself wonderfully precise and lucid – and when he did dominate it was more through personality than musical identification. Most memorable was his reflective playing. If Shaham was slightly too rhapsodic, Dohnányi kept things tight and proved an admirable foil to Shaham’s fabulous, faithful if too beaming rendition.

Between these two pieces, and not for the first time in London following the Lutoslawski (previously with the Philharmonia Orchestra, of which he is Principal Conductor), Dohnányi required the strings return to his preferred antiphonal violins with cellos and basses placed on the left of the platform. ’His’ preference … rather this is the norm from days of yore when composers like Brahms utilised the possibilities of discourse, and altogether preferable to the standard ’stereo’ layout of today.

The Brahms was a great success, unhurried and contoured, not so much pastoral, as this symphony is sometimes designated, as serene. Perhaps after the majestic traversal of the opening movement (the important repeat observed), Dohnányi’s flowing ’Adagio non troppo’ was in equilibrium with his grand design if just a tad pushed along on its own terms. The ’Finale’, easy to propel with little purpose, enjoyed lucid interplay and a real sense of culmination. Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture was equally suspended between motion and relish; an overture to a new era for musicians and conductor – they with Franz Welser-Möst, he continuing with the Philharmonia and … watch this space!

From dialoguing violins of exquisite expression to a timpanist that rarely played-out but made every note count, the Cleveland/Dohnányi partnership closed gloriously.

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