London Philharmonic/Eschenbach Christian Tetzlaff [Ibéria … Symphonie espagnole … Don Juan … Boléro]

Images pour orchestre – No.2: Ibéria
Symphonie espagnole, Op.21
Don Juan, Op.20

Christian Tetzlaff (violin)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 May, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

On probably the hottest day in London so far this year, this concert’s Spanish theme – overt in three of the pieces, and with the story of Don Juan emanating from Spain – was a complement to the sweltering conditions.

Christoph Eschenbach. Photograph: Eric BrissaudAlthough Christoph Eschenbach has championed Albert Roussel’s four symphonies, he is perhaps not especially associated with the music of either Debussy or Ravel. ‘Ibéria’ suffered from a harried-along first movement, the exuberance somewhat forced and fluctuations of pace not convincing. Although the second section was sensitively played, a nocturnal and sensual atmosphere was rarely suggested, and the finale was too deliberately paced to conjure a festive atmosphere.

Ravel’s Boléro ended the concert, Rachel Gledhill’s side drum placed at the front of the platform between cellos (centre-left) and violas. Yes, the side drum plays throughout Boléro but it’s not a soloist; for all that, Gledhill played with impressive control and concentration, the focus of the performance (quite a swift one) being the unerring charting of the crescendo even if the final bars were crude in volume and delivery. The various instrumental solos were well taken, not least from trombonist Mark Templeton, but Eschenbach’s conducting style became more and more risible. Having begun with arms firmly by his sides and using eye-contact, which emphasised fairly enough the mechanistic nature of the piece, Eschenbach, as the music got louder, started using his head in a robotic way, to the left for the first violins, then to the right to cue the seconds. Frankly, some of his actions looked merely daft.

Christian Tetzlaff. Photograph: alexandra-vosding.deLalo’s Symphonie espagnole found Christian Tetzlaff in technically fine form, but he played with unstinting intensity and this became wearing over the first four movements despite dynamic variety, but which suited well the solemnity of the fourth movement itself, the highlight here. At least Tetzlaff found a lighter touch and some tonal half-lights for the finale, which sparkled. Irksome applause greeted the loud-ending first and third movements, but not the quietly concluding second and fourth.

Eschenbach was on home-ground in the Lalo, as he was in the Strauss, and although the performance of Richard Strauss’s Don Juan had sweep, a little bit too much in the opening, which taxed the strings, there were plenty of thrills and romance, and Ian Hardwick’s oboe solo was a thing of beauty, but also numerous details that were not quite placed exactingly enough, which was also evident elsewhere in the concert and suggested that a little more rehearsal-time would not have gone amiss.

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