Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129
Symphony No.2 in C, Op.61
Natalia Gutman (cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 29 April, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Following the illness that prevented him joining the London Philharmonic on its recent tour of the United States, it’s good to report that Kurt Masur, although looking a little gaunt, was here a vital, genial and imposing presence on the podium.
Masur led three performances of the utmost distinction, all impeccably balanced and transparently sounded, the lie given to the notion that Schumann’s orchestration is problematical. In the overture to Schumann’s only opera, Masur caught the romantic potency of the music, shaped the lyrical episodes with affection (but not indulgence), and had something in reserve for an exhilarating coda.
In the concerto Natalia Gutman’s first entry suggested that she was going to examine the potential of every note, her laboured delivery coupled with suspect intonation and a lack of poise not boding well. However, with the orchestra through its first tutti, Gutman ‘returned’ to give a compelling reading. Yes, this was something of a post-mortem, but there was reasoning behind it, and her rich and mellow tone (itself a joy) yielded a variety of colours. Whether in gutsy attack, a wide dynamic range, or some wonderfully ear-catching pointillist staccatos, she held the stage on Schumann’s behalf. Gutman’s mix of the pedagogue and the improviser was ideal for this ruminative and intimate work, and she brought vivacity to the finale. She also enjoyed a perfect balance with the orchestra, partly helped by her sitting a little further back than is the norm, snugly adjacent to Masur, in fact, who elicited a finely spun and confident accompaniment.
The great Second Symphony received a rendition commensurate with its stature. Smooth-flowing and with springy rhythms, Masur’s swift urgency never compromised the music’s lyricism, dextrousness or pathos. The electric sweep that Masur conjured explored the work rather than taking it prisoner. The first movement evolved organically (exemplary dovetailing from slow introduction to exposition and when returning to the latter), the scherzo was both quicksilver and muscular (the second trio touchingly yearning), the sublime Adagio was lit from within with rapt, pre-Tristan intimation, and the finale (which Masur went straight into) brought a significant release of tension, the coda the very antithesis of bombast, and deeply satisfying.
The LPO played wonderfully for its Principal Conductor and the occasion was a moving and memorable one. A long ovation greeted the symphony during which a lady from the audience presented Masur with several red roses and a card. He was clearly touched by this gesture, one which summed-up the concert perfectly and which significantly renewed the LPO and Masur’s close relationship.