London Philharmonic/Zehetmair

Alfonso und Estrella – Overture
Violin Concerto in D, K218
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Thomas Zehetmair (violin)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 9 November, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

For all Thomas Zehetmair’s rather angular conducting style, he certainly gets positive results and brings imaginative insights. If the overture to Schubert’s rarely played opera is nothing special, save one rather picturesque idea, the atmosphere and pregnancy that Zehetmair found in it was arresting. Then with a reduced LPO, just two double basses nestling in with the cellos, Zehetmair led a classical, upbeat account of the Mozart. Always spot-on intonationally Zehetmair had no need to spotlight any aspects of the music for special attention. The cadenzas, presumably his own, were integrated and concise. The Andante cantabile was especially appealing, flowing and singing, with some touching pathos in the final bars, and the courtly elegance of the finale was nicely diverted by the various episodes. A quite lovely performance in which the LPO musicians played a considerable part and looked to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

After such intimacy and good manners, Zehetmair’s conducting of the Scottish Symphony was somewhat surprising in its largesse and range. The LPO strings were back to more or less full strength, the six double basses at the rear of the hall in a straight line. Zehetmair, once more without a score, delved into the possibilities of string colour and the initially astringent dialogue between antiphonal violins suggested a historically informed reading. But there was a wealth of tonal shading, dynamic variety and much expression; unforgettable was the sotto voce beginning to the first movement exposition (although taking the repeat was superfluous in context), the easeful articulation of the scherzo, and the unforced pomp of the symphony’s close – with much to beguile along the way.

This was a performance of considerable flair and finesse, always illuminating the music from within; the many ‘personal’ decisions taken by Zehetmair proved to be part of the whole and seemed inevitable. Mendelssohn himself described Scotland as “solemn and powerful”; such words are apt for Zehetmair’s response to the music, but there was very much more to it than that.

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