Overture The Hebrides (Fingals Cave), Op.26
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
Helen Huang (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 6 October, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
During 2007 some notable conductors reach their 80th-birthdays: Herbert Blomstedt, Colin Davis, Michael Gielen and Mstislav Rostropovich, for example, and the list also includes Kurt Masur (in July). He remains a robust and inspiring figure on the podium.
A vividly sculptured account of Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ overture opened the concert – the violins gleamed and the lower strings glowed in this account notable for its precision, clarity and radiance, the latter marked by a meltingly poetic clarinet solo from Nicholas Carpenter: the calm before the storm.
Schumann’s Piano Concerto was agreeably unforced, shapely and expressive; Helen Huang, closely associated with Kurt Masur for a decade and more – she is now 24 – gave a light-fingered and considered view, but her lack of variety was outdone by a rather more interesting contribution from the orchestra, not least Masur’s attention to small print (one too-early cue of his being ignored by the orchestra, to the amusement of conductor and musicians alike!). A lack of variegation on Huang’s part sometimes suggested the piano-writing as obbligato rather than soloistic. While Huang’s discretion was welcome, and one appreciated her musicianship, too often hers was a ‘head down’ approach that was dutiful in dynamic response rather than interactively characterful.
Brahms’s Second Symphony was immaculately played (not least Richard Bissill’s horn solos) and seen whole; without eschewing either warmth or rhetoric, Masur led a tightly organised yet expansive account that seemed inevitable and which enjoyed a range of personality but without distorting the music’s ‘long line’. Masur caught the music’s contemplation and sweep unerringly and invested much intensity and feeling, which was reciprocated by the members of the London Philharmonic – every note mattered and meant something. After the long first movement (exposition repeat observed, with certainty), the Adagio was non-indulged but concentrated, the Allegretto grazioso had wit and whimsy, and the finale was moderately paced to bond the movement’s stealth, mystery and exhilaration. Balance was exemplary; brass never allowed to dominate.
Kurt Masur steps down as the LPO’s Principal Conductor at the end of this season. Hopefully his wisdom will continue to grace London long after that.