La mer – three symphonic sketches
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Torleif Thedéen (cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 5 June, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The London Philharmonic Orchestra closed its 2008/09 concert season with a sold-out popular programme conducted by a Swiss-born guest who is currently music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Mario Venzago’s conducting of La mer had its moments, not least in power of evocation and in subtlety of detail and colour. Yet, although the LPO’s playing was poised and sensitive throughout, Venzago rather undid the ‘symphonic’ nature of the score through sectionalising (sometimes to illuminating effect) and fully-scored passages were not as pristine as this music requires. The ‘controversial’ fanfares were included in the finale (assigned to horns) but lacked threat. Good though to find a conductor visibly restraining the applause that greeted the first movement.
In opening Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Torleif Thedéen fell somewhere between defiance and acceptance, a non-committal view that was constantly outside of this most-personal of cello concertos. For all that Thedéen played ‘nicely’ (a few scrapes and off-notes aside) and was well accompanied (in a seasoned way), he (and Venzago, if to a lesser extent) failed to stamp any real identification with the piece or any authority. Tempos were generally well judged but the slower music rambled because the performers were happy to play the notes and little more; such a neutral approach lost the music its personality, its circumstance and emerged as pleasant listening (hardly what the music is about) if emotionally unengaging.
Venzago has an elegant approach to music, it seems, and is careful in his approach, catching ‘the letter’ rather than ‘the spirit’. On the evidence of this Beethoven 5, he would have made a decent job of the ‘Pastoral’, for this account of the Fifth, while ‘squeaky clean’, nifty and making all the right noises, was also lightweight and unvaried (the slow movement, however ‘con moto’, ended up as mechanical), pulling its punches at times and with no suggestion of the music’s fervour, steel, turbulence and progression from darkness to light – all summed up by the watered-down final chord. This is music that should electrify, shock even; yet, however lucid and clear-sighted Venzago’s view of the music (or his relishing of the exchanges between antiphonal violins), and however excellent the LPO’s playing, this was but a quickstep of familiar and comfortable listening.