LPO/Eschenbach Daniel Müller-Schott – Dvořák & Brahms

Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 11 March, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Concerts do not come more mainstream than this, nor do they come much better. Whatever one’s opinions about the decision to dispense with an orchestral opener and plunge in medias res, or with particular interpretative choices in either piece, there was never a moment’s doubt that the evening radiated that special vibrant commitment which, at its best, places live concert-going on a totally different plane to recordings.

Daniel Müller-Schott. Photograph: Tom Specht Daniel Müller-Schott clearly enjoys the closest rapport with Christoph Eschenbach and has very rapidly risen to become one of today’s outstanding young cellists. In a work such as the Dvořák, ghosts of great cellists of the past crowd in on the ear. The most complimentary thing one can say regarding this performance, one’s sole thought was of the composer, never of comparisons.

In fact, with Eschenbach at the helm this was a subtly interventionist reading. For instance, time memorably stood still in the horn solo, played (or almost ‘recalled’) as though in a dream by Roger Montgomery, yet when the same moment was reprised by the cellist there was no hint of sentimentality, just an unaffected intensity. Müller-Schott may not yet command the widest tonal palette but he produces a rich and imposing sound, sustaining a singing line without resort to histrionics.

Christoph Eschenbach. Photograph: Eric BrissaudEschenbach and the LPO were partners rather than accompanists, the wind soloists, especially the plangent first flute (Julien Beaudiment), were outstandingly characterful, and Eschenbach gave the music its full weight, successfully embedding the brass in the texture rather than allowing it to dominate.

Regarding Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, Brahms may have said “Why on earth didn’t I know that one could write a cello concerto like this?”, but when it came to his own First Symphony, composed in the shadow of Beethoven, he told the conductor Hermann Levi, “I shall never write a symphony. You’ve no idea what it feels like with such a giant marching behind you.”

Eschenbach can be an erratic conductor, his jerky gestures either unsettling an orchestra or energising it; some years back a Proms Brahms 2 with the NDR Symphony Orchestra produced some abysmally scrappy playing whereas even further back a Royal Festival Hall Brahms 1, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, was absolutely splendid. Are there conductors who function better as guests, who generate a sense of occasion, and others who thrive on protracted contact with one orchestra? Whatever the answer, here there was a riveting sense of occasion throughout.

Undoubtedly Eschenbach pushes matters to extremes with his tempo fluctuations in more becalmed moments, but, with the LPO giving its all, there was never any doubt as to this music’s momentous nature, nor as to the struggle behind the notes. One might quibble with some tempos or the slightly brazen horn solo in the finale – it is marked f sempre e passionato – but the sheer momentum and conviction generated far outweighed any reservations. There were noteworthy individual contributions, notably Ian Hardwick and Nicholas Carpenter’s finely nuanced oboe and clarinet duet in the slow movement, but the concert belonged to the orchestra as a whole.

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