Leonore No.3 – Overture, Op.72a
Violin Concerto No.2
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)
Shlomo Mintz (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: 25 January, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Fischer’s conducting of Leonore No.3, one of the four overtures that Beethoven wrote for “Fidelio”, was well paced and the quieter sections and the off-stage trumpet fanfares were highly atmospheric. However, the combination of Fischer’s deployment of a non-reduced orchestra (violins grouped together) and the Royal Festival Hall’s still-tricky acoustic resulted in tutti sections being rather cloudy, slightly undermining the energy of the performance.
More annoyingly, some members of the audience took a long time to settle: the sounds of spectacle-cases being opened, the rifling of programme pages, and the near-constant rustle of sweet-wrappers were an unhelpful presence throughout the overture.
Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto was given a virtuosic and imaginative performance by Shlomo Mintz. In the Magyar-flavoured opening theme, Mintz deployed a warm, singing tone but one which hinted at the struggle to come, while in the cadenza, with its quarter-tone passages, he demonstrated compelling intensity. In the slow movement, a Theme and Variations, darkness and impression were to the fore, while the finale brought bite, mystery and energy. Fischer was an equal partner, encouraging orchestral playing of character, sensitivity and power. The Revised Version was used, the soloist playing to the end, as requested by Zoltán Székely, who commissioned the concerto and gave the first performance in Amsterdam in 1939 with Willem Mengelberg conducting.
For an encore, Mintz played a Paganini Caprice with lightning dexterity – although sadly a proportion of the audience did not consider it sufficiently interesting to halt their unseemly dash to the bar.
Fischer’s conducting of the first movement of the ‘New World’ Symphony was especially satisfying – given with a firm sense of forward momentum, the phrasing warm and idiomatic, and climaxes powerful but ideally balanced. Changes in tempo were handled with great subtlety. In the Largo, however, the playing of the cor anglais solo was surprisingly detached, and despite playing of the utmost delicacy elsewhere, the movement was not very involving. The scherzo brought a return to the earlier level of quality, and the finale was energetic, the orchestral standard very high, the playing of flautist Andrew Nicholson and the horn section being particularly impressive.
At the end, Fischer received applause with much graciousness and enthusiastically made his way through the orchestra to shake hands with the principal players.