Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op.102
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin) & Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 4 February, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Kurt Masur conducting Brahms is a tried and trusted pairing. This concert (attracting a sold-out, returns-only audience) really should have had an opener – Tragic Overture would have been welcome, or the three (piano/four hands) Hungarian Dances that Brahms orchestrated might have juiced-up the air (Masur made a wonderful recording of all twenty-one in Leipzig many years ago) – for the rather slack beginning to the Double Concerto was an unfortunate presage of things to come in this work and suggested that it had not seen much rehearsal. Bland and earthbound overall, not one of the many frisson-making moments made any impact, and although Masur’s conducting was structurally reliable if sluggish of tempo, the LPO was corporately uncertain if monotonously disciplined and even woodwind consorts and solos seemed to ‘play into nothing’. The two soloists, doing their own thing, offered some attractive contributions, Anne-Sophie Mutter bringing a range of colours and attacks (without forcing her hand) and Daniel Müller-Schott’s deep and rosiny tone was a constant pleasure, so too his ruminative phrasing, a contrast to Mutter’s more-dynamic manner; problem was that his restraint was constantly covered by her assertiveness and much of his playing was submerged in duo. Overall, this olive-branch of a concerto (written by Brahms, as his last orchestral work, to successfully reconcile with violinist Joseph Joachim after their years of estrangement) has rarely sounded so lacklustre, uncoordinated and uninspired.
Brahms’s First Symphony was altogether more engrossing. There have been more seismic performances (none more so than the radio broadcast, commercially released, of Furtwängler in Berlin in 1951 that is akin to a volcano erupting) but few as lucid, sensitive and as thought-through as Masur and a now-enlivened LPO produced here. If there were no interpretative surprises, and Masur’s approach is ‘traditional’ rather than Urtext, this account, both weighty and illuminated from within, enjoyed gravitas, seamless transitions, expressive parlance and a sense of journey that was flexible but assured of its direction. His gestures may have been minimal, but Masur (his eighty-fourth birthday waiting in the wings and very surprisingly with no date during the LPO’s 2011-12 season, not in London anyway) made the piece his own for its duration, a poetic and affectionate traversal of light and shade, shiningly detailed. If not quite the ultimate in crossing from dark-to-light, Masur’s richly-moulded approach held the attention, the slow movement, silkily played, particularly eloquent and blessed with lovely woodwind offerings and also Pieter Schoeman’s expressive and honeyed violin solo. Aimez-vous Brahms? Kurt Masur does and his love remains undiminished.