Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Chailly – Beethoven 8 & 9

Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93
Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)

Katerina Beranova (soprano)
Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo-soprano)
Robert Dean Smith (tenor)
Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass-baritone)

MDR Radio Choir Leipzig
Leipzig Gewandhaus Choir

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Riccardo Chailly

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 1 January, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Riccardo Chailly. Photograph: Gert MothesRiccardo Chailly doesn’t hang around when he’s conducting Beethoven! The first movement of the Eighth Symphony was decidedly sprightly but also genial and dancing, fiery, precise and with contrasting elegance. Missing though was wit, especially in the second movement, which whether poking fun at the invention of the metronome (by Johann Nepomuk Mälzel) or not, failed to raise a smile despite such lucid playing. Trumpets were much to the fore (a balance problem that irked elsewhere in both symphonies) in the Minuet, which was blessed with outstanding horn-playing in the Trio, and if the finale was played brilliantly – not least in its nimble and feather-light qualities – Chailly’s penchant for rapidity lost the movement its playfulness.

There’s no doubt though that the Gewandhaus musicians play with terrific verve and commitment for their Gewandhauskapellmeister, for these were incident-packed performances. The ‘Choral’ also offered little respite, the first movement lacking mystery if not force, and if ‘quarts’ and ‘pint pots’ came to mind on occasions, this was also music-making of such vividness as to compel attention; Chailly took a seamless approach and drove the movement to satisfying turmoil. The scherzo – predictably nimble and buoyant – offered a couple of editorial conundrums: some horn twirls suggested a recourse to Wagner’s emendations or even Mahler’s re-scoring – and although Chailly gratifyingly extended the movement with the observance of all repeats, he also reprised the first section of the scherzo after the trio (here fleet and of gossamer delicacy), an option that seemed to appear twenty or so years ago (when Michael Gielen and Colin Davis took it in concerts, but not on their respective recordings). From Chailly the result was a movement that ran and ran (and was slightly longer in terms of minutes than the opening movement). The end of the scherzo was something of a whimper, a curiosity – another example of scholarship?

Robert Dean SmithThe slow movement (following the tension-dissipating, applause-inducing appearance of the vocal soloists – best to have them on from the off) brought the evening’s only, and much needed, expressive expanse, the opening melody beautifully-sounded and tenderly played by the strings to establish a serenity that was transporting. If the trumpets interrupted with unnecessary edge later, their contribution to the tumult that opens the finale was spot-on. If Chailly’s shaping of the ‘Ode to Joy’ theme was, as elsewhere, just a little too self-consciously smooth, there was also an impulse (and logic) to the movement as a whole. Hanno Müller-Brachmann brought a preacher’s magnetism to his call for peace and relished every syllable of every word, as did Robert Dean Smith, his voice smiling through a very jaunty rendition of the ‘Turkish’ percussion-coloured march.

The combined chorus (about 100-strong) sung with lusty conviction and exactness (from memory) but was a little shrill at times (maybe because ladies outnumbered gentlemen). The exhilarating coda brought the house down, cueing one of the longest ovations in a London concert hall for some time. Reservations, yes, mostly over Chailly’s concern for expression without giving the necessary breathing space; but placing all the woodwinds and horns to the left on the same ‘line’ as the separated-out trumpets favoured the latter, to disadvantage. Nevertheless, the overriding impression, particularly in the ‘Choral’, was of vibrant outreach (painstaking yet spontaneous) imbued with culture and tradition.

  • Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Riccardo Chailly return to the Barbican Hall on 5 April 2009 (at 6 p.m.) for Bach’s St Matthew Passion
  • Barbican

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