Schluck und Jau – Music for the play by Gerhart Hauptmann
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.53
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.44
Thomas Zehetmair (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Mark Elder
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 1 May, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Over the last few seasons some of the most memorable concerts that the London Philharmonic has given in the Royal Festival Hall have been conducted by Mark Elder, whether music by Mahler, Berlioz, Elgar or Richard Strauss (a superb Symphonia Domestica just a few months ago). Elder’s conducting of Rachmaninov’s great (if underrated) and far-reaching Third Symphony didn’t quite equal these past achievements (and probably suffered because of them). Also, for all that Rachmaninov 3 isn’t performed enough, it may have been too soon for the LPO to return to it given Osmo Vänskä’s supremely fine December 2007 account of it (now happily residing on an LPO compact disc, which hopefully will be joined by Elder’s Domestica).
Not that there was anything ‘wrong’ with the performance. It was well-prepared and -played and much attention was paid to Rachmaninov’s fabulous orchestration (a masterpiece in itself). The ‘problem’ was that the emotional temperature was set too low, which robbed the music of its sear and heartache; enough for the symphony to sprawl somewhat. The first movement (with expansive tempos, the exposition repeat, a tendency to reflect through tranquillity and leant-on rubato) never quite took wing, and if the (real) slow one had greater flexibility, its restlessness was a little too objectively achieved, the central scherzo-like section playful rather than driven. Conversely, the finale was moved along just a little to quickly and the fugal section somewhat undersold by Elder atypically arranging the two violin sections together (I wonder why?). The flute solo that begins the coda, and on which all the time in the world can be lavished, was just a little harried (if beautifully played by Adam Walker), yet the final full-orchestra assault lacked desperation.
In the concert’s first half, Thomas Zehetmair gave an ill-at-ease performance of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in which tone, colour and projection were at a premium, intonation was questionable, and the playing per se was scratchy and effortful. Such astringency is at-odds with the composer’s warmth of expression, poetic lines and – in the finale – bucolic high spirits (here rather forced, the pulse staggered). Elder and the LPO provided a neat but rather damped-down accompaniment – woodwinds needed more immediacy (but would have covered the soloist) – and the whole rarely engaged.
Making the biggest impression was the music that Janáček wrote in the last year of his life (1928) for Gerhart Hauptmann’s play “Schluck und Jau”, a symphony orchestra at the composer’s disposal (those were the days!). There may not be much music (9 minutes or so) and Janáček wasn’t able to complete his score (the two movements that survive have been edited and missing material filled-in by Jarmil Burghauser).
What we have could only be by Janáček (maybe that suggests limitations) and is self-derivative (particularly to Taras Bulba and “Glagolitic Mass”) – wild trills, piercing woodwinds, a vivid sense of narrative and music edgy, frenzied, magical, pastoral and ceremonial. Striking invention superbly performed here, the various solos finely taken (not least by guest horn principal Roger Montgomery who was a distinguished presence throughout the concert) and displaying Sir Mark Elder’s very particular relationship with Janáček’s distinctive music.
- Concert broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 5 May at 7 p.m.
- Vänskä Rachmaninov 3
- Elder Domestica
- Southbank Centre