Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly Barbican Brahms cycle – 1/4: Double Concerto, with Leonidas Kavakos & Enrico Dindo, and Symphony 1

Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op.102
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Leonidas Kavakos (violin) & Enrico Dindo (cello)

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Riccardo Chailly

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 October, 2013
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Riccardo Chailly. Photograph: Decca / Gert MothesFour Barbican Hall concerts of Brahms from Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra neatly encompass the four concertos and the four symphonies but exclude the two overtures (Academic Festival and Tragic) and the Haydn (St Anthony Chorale) Variations, which seem strange omissions, and not to mention the two Serenades. Similarly strange, the Gewandhaus Quartet, in pre-concert recitals in Milton Court, is playing two rather than the three string quartets that Brahms composed, Opus 67 passed over.

In this first concert we started at the end, with Brahms’s final work for orchestra, something of an olive branch to the violinist Joseph Joachim. The opening statement was bracing, Enrico Dindo’s first entry assertive and Leonidas Kavakos responded with rumination. Overall though this was an urgent reading, traditional indulgences eschewed, and if the soloists were personable and the Gewandhaus Orchestra vibrant and vivid, the overall drive rather diminished some of the music’s breathing and curves. Similarly the slow movement flowed by just a little inconsequentially, glowing woodwinds notwithstanding, and the finale (the main theme distracted from by an unusually clear bassoon counterpoint) garnered excitement but not its free spirit.

As for the towering and long-gestated First Symphony, such a no-nonsense approach also informed its opening, but the sound was rich and airy – violins (antiphonal) gleamed, the left-positioned double basses were a rich foundation, and those woodwinds continued to be wonderful, not least the fabulous first oboist; you’d want him in your team every week. Somehow though Chailly’s seeming-determination to blow cobwebs away from this music and to get back to basics brought mixed results; satisfying in the latter stages of the first movement exposition (repeated) that can so easily sit on its haunches, but although there was much intensity and passion, the didactic elements of Chailly’s approach came to grief in an impatient reading of the second movement Andante, bordering on Allegretto at times. By contrast the expression of the intermezzo-like third movement turned on a sixpence before the finale caught the best and less-convincing aspects of what had gone before; the minus-points being an unwillingness to let the music respire and pause, and the positive ones being an awareness of Brahms’s surprising subito markings and a coda that was electrifying for not only blazing triumph but also being in one tempo and blessedly avoiding what can be a gratuitous slowing for the return of the ‘motto’ theme.

Decca has recently issued these artists in Brahms’s Symphony Cycle, plus some curios, and not forgetting the overtures and Haydn Variations. To end this concert on came a pair of percussionists for an extra item – there had to be one given that the bass drum, triangle and cymbals were otherwise not needed – ah, maybe the Academic Festival Overture! Nope, anyway it needs a tuba. Instead it was one of those Hungarian Dances that have done such sterling service as encores for so long, the elegant No.3 in Brahms’s own orchestration, here made sprightly but lacking for affection.

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