Benvenuto Cellini – Overture
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
Ein Heldenleben, Op.40
Alban Gerhardt (cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 15 October, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
It’s a while since David Zinman conducted the London Philharmonic in the capital, if at all (usually it’s been him with the Philharmonia or LSO), and they reunited or began the relationship with a spanking account of the ‘Overture’ to Berlioz’s failed opera “Benvenuto Cellini”, a performance of clarity, essential to Berlioz, the music made exuberant and tender, Zinman’s phrasing of the slower music as shapely, affectionate and intense as you like, the faster stuff nudged, ruffled and pointed to a majestic conclusion, Zinman’s flexibility of pace, his baton on- and off-duty as dictated by tempo and mood, retaining the ‘all’ of the piece.
Zinman’s conducting of Ein Heldenleben was welcomingly free of bombast and histrionics, the score given dignity, a generous sweep illuminating the opening ‘Hero’ section, the ensuing ‘Critics’ not as acerbic as they can be (we have our softer side!), then Pieter Schoeman and his violin conjured a ‘Companion’ that was both flirty and prickly (a notable portrayal), their attraction lovingly consummated and then soothed to a soft-focus Romantic glow rather than requiring an X-certificate and to be projected in Technicolor. The trumpets were ideally distanced to sound the alarm of war, Zinman’s deliberation staging this ‘Battle’ as a local disturbance, satirical even, rather than a globe-trotting invasion, eventual triumph being glorious in its necessity rather than as an act of hectoring dictatorialism. With past works reviewed (through numerous self-quotations) and Zinman charting an assured course to a sunset close, and also very attentive to the chamber-music lucidity of Richard Strauss’s orchestration – John Ryan’s mellifluous horn solos a perfect complement to Schoeman’s contented prose – this was an ideal antidote to those performances of Ein Heldenleben that seem verbose and wallowing.
A similar act of resuscitation, and removal of accretions, informed Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Alban Gerhardt rather than Truls Mørk striding-on to play it. Plain-speaking, flowing, unsentimental, Gerhardt proved that the secret with this nostalgic and melancholic work is to play it simply, not mess around and distend it to distraction; his intonation was virtually infallible and he was easeful in stretching to those wide-interval high notes. A shame about the constancy of some indiscriminate coughing that was an aural pockmark, but interpretatively here was gravity and poignancy (with mercurialness in the scherzo) without it being imposed or signposted, a performance without baggage, to which David Zinman and the LPO were the perfect and most-considerate collaborators. Gerhardt offered a Bach Suite movement as an encore, fantasy and formula in tandem, Gerhardt’s immediate creativity suggesting the ink of the musical notation as still being wet.