Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Chailly – Beethoven Symphony Cycle at Barbican Hall – 4: Symphonies 4 & Pastoral + Mantovani

Beethoven
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Mantovani
Upon one note [UK premiere]
Beethoven
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Riccardo Chailly


Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 2 November, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Riccardo Chailly. Photograph: Gert MothesThis penultimate instalment of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra’s Beethoven cycle brought us a near-ideal performance of the Fourth Symphony and an almost equally good one of the ‘Pastoral’, which, whilst suffering from a slightly rushed first movement and one or two minor playing lapses from the horns, was distinguished by an unusually inward account of ‘Scene by the brook’.

There was also Bruno Mantovani’s Upon one note. As with the other satellite works commissioned to go with this Beethoven cycle, Mantovani’s work takes one of the symphonies being played – in this case the Fourth – as its point of departure. In his programme note the composer claims his piece is an overture to the symphony “ending … with a decrescendo which leaves the way open for the start of Beethoven’s work.” Given this, it seemed more than a little odd that it should have been placed after the symphony, not that it made much difference since there was no discernible connection. Mantovani’s work is propelled along by a large percussion section and alternates frenetic activity with brief moments of stasis. There are a series of arabesques for oboe, superbly played, but otherwise little else of note.

Chailly’s approach to the Fourth Symphony placed the work at the opposite extreme to the traditional Germanic approach, the slow introduction’s 38 bars a straightforward statement rather than a Fidelio-like exploration of darkness, and the succeeding Allegro vivace an undiluted explosion of energy subject to minimal deviations in tempo, Chailly’s antiphonal seating of the violins paying rich dividends. A surprisingly swift Adagio eschewed innigkeit in favour of an elegant cantabile and did not preclude real vehemence at the sustained climax; there was a notably poised clarinet solo, too. The scherzo (in all but name) fairly flew along, with hardly any slowing for the trio. The finale, while fast and furious, also allowed Haydnesque wit and spin, and time for the bassoonist to play the famous solo … just.

The ‘Pastoral’ was similarly unbridled but Chailly’s unduly swift tempos for the outer movements, whilst invigorating, precluded the inner glow which can transform the work from a swift stroll in the country into a more spiritual experience. Of course, it is possible to approach the work with such reverence that it becomes the musical equivalent of a painting by Claude Lorraine, a re-visitation of an imagined Golden Age. However, there was much that was remarkable. Chailly found beauty to the string-sound in ‘Scene by the brook’, an unbroken line as the argument passed seamlessly from one instrument to another. Balances within the orchestra were exceptional in their finesse, the woodwind calls by flute (nightingale), oboe (quail) and clarinet (cuckoo) were realistically characterful. The ‘Storm’ was appropriately thunderous, the sheer weight of sound from the double basses having to be heard to be believed.

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