Symphony No.1, Op.9
Violin Concerto No.2 in D minor, Op.44
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Tasmin Little (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 9 February, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Two very-welcome concert rarities made for a highly satisfying first half. Samuel Barber (1910-81) wrote two symphonies, the Second being withdrawn and, indeed, destroyed – save for a set of parts that escaped the cull and which ensures the occasional performance and recording! Although the First Symphony (1936) is in one continuous movement it has a distinguishable four-movement structure. Under Marin Alsop (who recorded the work for Naxos in 2000) the opening Allegro ma non troppo was thrilling because the music seemed held back and almost afraid to proceed: surely exactly how it should be. The lyricism of the ‘third movement’ oboe solo shone through and provided stillness between the two gripping and powerfully played ‘second’ and ‘fourth’ movements.
What a shame it is that Max Bruch seems to be known for nothing else but his First Violin Concerto. There are two other concertos for violin, a large-scale Serenade, the occasionally played Scottish Fantasy, and three symphonies. Excepting a performance two days ago, Tasmin Little last played Concerto No.2 fifteen years ago! It’s a work with much to commend it. However, in parts of the opening movement, the orchestra was far too forceful and drowned out some of Little’s soaring passagework. There followed a rather routine second movement from Alsop that was rescued by the vitality of Little’s playing, leading in to a fine flourish in the finale, where orchestra and conductor finally fired together. This music deserves many more performances than it gets.
The fame of Beethoven’s Fifth certainly saved it in this rendition. Whereas the Bruch and Barber could rely on their ‘rare’ musical qualities, which they successfully did, Alsop’s conducting of Beethoven offered nothing new and, in parts, the orchestra seemed to be on auto-pilot. The opening movement emerged as a sugar-coated confection: all very light and little to say.
Over-familiarity can rob music of genuine thrill, yet this symphony is one piece that can still provide the listener with a musical journey despite our intimacy with it and deliver shock punches. But not here. It was like a car-crash in slow-motion: every detail apparent. Amidst the debris, however, were some fine contributions: in the slow movement from the bassoon and clarinet along with a breathtaking pureness of sound and calm.