London Philharmonic – New Season (1 October)

Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Kurt Masur

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 1 October, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Another late-starting concert, by ten minutes – was the influx of latecomers a further example of discourteous behaviour from those loathe to leave a reception?

BBC Symphony aside, the London orchestras are generally playing it safe this season. It’s quite novel, though, to get Brahms’s first two symphonies, in order, in the same concert; indeed, I can only think of Kurt Masur himself having done so before in London (with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in the Barbican). A shame, then, that he led such an uneventful account of No.1 – low in tension, dragging tempi, and with some impromptu (and fallible) playing. Overall, far too comfortable, with the triumphant coda rendered superfluous.

Yet, Masur was loving the music; he was a bright, breezy and virile force on the podium. Indeed, his dynamic conducting seemed at odds with what seemed an inner serenity, his own joy at still being around to perform. Thus the radiance of the Second Symphony was ideal for him on this particular evening. The LPO was altogether more corporate and engaged, Masur expounding the music with simple faith, clarity and sheer pleasure. That he observed the repeat in the first movement was both a surprise and also inevitable; he savoured the music but didn’t indulge it. There was no lack of depth in the slow movement or vitality in the finale. How good to hear the brass integrated, which neither devalued its assertions in the first movement development or the scintillation of the final bars.

This Brahms cycle continues on October 4 and 8.

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