Symphony No 44 in E minor (Trauer)
Cello Concerto in D
Don Quixote – Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, Op.35
Truls Mørk (cello)
Lawrence Power (viola)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 21 November, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The evening started unpromisingly with an energetic performance of what is arguably the most dramatic of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang symphonies, which nonetheless managed to completely miss the point. It scurried along in all four movements, elegantly tapered, cute, weightless and devoid of that sturdy forcefulness which is quintessentially Haydn. In the outer movements rapid tempos precluded anything resembling proper articulation, whilst the severe unbending Minuet was shorn of strength, emerging as merely dapper. Worst of all was the Adagio, music of real gravitas. Haydn asked for this movement to be played at his funeral; however at an unduly flowing tempo it came across more like a serenade. The LPO’s playing was unquestionably polished but polish is no substitute for character.
Much better came from Truls Mørk. Haydn’s D major Cello Concerto is music of a nonchalant elegance. Mørk, a deeply modest man as well as a great cellist and a fine chamber musician, interacted with his colleagues with relish. The lead into the first-movement cadenza is a curious kind of epilogue which sits oddly with the remainder of the movement but came over here as deeply affecting. The highlight was the Adagio, its reprise magical in its velvety softness whilst the finale was deliciously jaunty.
Best of all was a remarkably assured performance of Don Quixote, Mørk returning as Don Quixote and with Lawrence Power as his sidekick Sancho Panza. Pieter Schoeman, the LPO’s leader, also has a major role to play and deserves equal billing. Don Quixote receives all-too-few performances and the reasons are not hard to fathom. The music calls for the most precise characterisation and ultimately success on a convincing assumption of the two key roles. Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s hyperactive tendencies were here put to good use, lunging, dancing, cajoling, the LPO inspired. The sheep baa’ad noisily in ‘Variation II’, the stage almost levitated as knight and squire sailed through the air in ‘Variation VII’, but above all Nézet-Séguin deserves particular credit for binding the whole together, seamlessly, and for his intuitive understanding that like Life itself the work is really a dream. Aided by Mørk’s supremely dignified playing, the daydreams of ‘Variation III’ and the ‘Epilogue’ were both intensely moving in music that can all-too-easily seem self-indulgent.