LPO/Metzmacher – 23 Feb

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Prelude to Act 1
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Symphony No.4 in C minor, Op.43

Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Ingo Metzmacher

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 23 February, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Ingo Metzmacher’s appearances with the London Philharmonic have become almost an annual event over the last five years, with programming and repertoire always of interest. Interpretatively too, for the Meistersinger prelude which opened this concert was a far cry from the grandiloquence often grafted onto the music. Lithe and robust, with teasing anticipations of the humour to come, it was a coherent and affecting portrayal. Metzmacher recently conducted the opera in Hamburg in a staging that re-evaluated the work afresh. Nothing so controversial tonight, though one was aware that certain Nuremberg ’associations’ had been decisively ironed out.

Rather too much in the way of dynamism and interaction had been ironed out of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. Pierre-Laurent Aimard is a subtle and scintillating keyboard technician (witness his recent Barbican account of Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques). While his Teldec CDs of the Beethoven concertos suggests productive ’gamesmanship’ with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, tonight Metzmacher proved an excellent if too respectful accompanist, keeping proceedings in focus but not always challenging Aimard to abandon his chiselled aloofness and face up to the power and pathos of Beethoven’s music.

The passages of dialogue in the first movement failed to engage – and though the cadenza struck sparks, the breathtaking lead-in to the coda was too matter of fact. Aimard fairly smoothed his way through the ’Largo’ – its hushed intensity made bland, with the rapt arabesques of the middle section given a Chopinesque reticence. The Rondo finale was more engaging in its quick-fire irony, though Aimard failed to make much of the cunning tonal side-steps in the central episode and it was left to Metzmacher to drive home the C major resolution of the coda. Supreme stylist though he is, Aimard rarely sounded even partially engaged – suggesting that Beethoven might not be ’his’ composer, after all.

Turning to Shostakovich, and it soon becomes clear that Metzmacher has something individual to say. The Russian composer did not always receive the highest accolades in the old ’West’ Germany and this account of the Fourth Symphony positioned the music firmly in the context of European new music from between the Wars. Thus Metzmacher’s was a trenchant even brittle approach to the first movement’s opening themes, with a corresponding playing down of the Mahlerian expressiveness that comes into play. Neither short-winded nor sprawling, the movement was tellingly shaped and weighted towards the brooding revisiting of themes in its final portion. An expanded LPO (still a few string desks short) duly rose to the challenge, giving the music with something like the impact it needs to have.

Metzmacher adopted a measured, moody approach to the deceptively lightweight intermezzo which follows – its Hindemithian counterpoint given a tense, claustrophobic feel which was anything but neutral. The Finale stands or falls by the inevitability with which its four disparate sections are knitted together, and here Metzmacher was in complete control. In particular, the ’Allegro’ was paced so that its repetitions were made potent in their insistence, while the ensuing divertissement had a palpable sense of ’dancing on a volcano’ which placed its inanities in context. If the peroration lacked the last degree of physicality, the evanescent close was properly inscrutable in its leave-taking.

Interesting that thoughts of Karl Amadeus Hartmann – the German symphonist and contemporary of Shostakovich, whom Metzmacher has done so much to champion – came to mind at numerous points in the work. A pairing of Hartmann One and Shostakovich Four, both by composers in their mid-30s facing a future of uncertainty bordering on despair, would make quite a concert – and might even provoke concert-goers out of their complacency.

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