Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Ah, lo previdi, K272
Misera, dove son, K369
The Golden Age Suite, Op.22a
Symphony No.1 in F minor, Op.10
Christine Schäfer (soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 16 March, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London Queen Elizabeth Hall
Illness prevented Ingo Metzmacher’s appearance with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the start of last season, but the German maestro is back with contrasting programmes this month and next. This pairing of Mozart and Shostakovich might almost be a follow-on from last year’s celebrations, but there can be no ‘date’ attached to the performance of such music; nor is there any doubting the authority evinced by Metzmacher in composers whose differences have been proving more apparent than real.
The evening began with a performance of Mozart’s Fortieth Symphony whose objective intensity was firmly in the mould of such conductors as Hans Rosbaud and Michael Gielen. Thus a rugged, combative and tautly-phrased Allegro – with a notably incisive development – proceeded an Andante that was a touch severe for its pathos fully to register, despite LPO’s woodwind-playing being at its limpid best. Metzmacher rightly did not harry the Minuet, thus allowing its contrapuntal dexterity ample time to come through and with the Trio perfectly poised. Bracing and insistent, the finale fully capped the reading with its implacable drive: there was no second-half repeat, but the stark ‘twelve- note’ sequence that initiates the development is all the more effective for being heard in isolation.
More Mozart followed in the guise of two concert arias – a genre to which he contributed some four dozen examples, most of them rarely heard in concert and so all the more pleasurable to encounter; especially with a soloist such as Christine Schäfer. She brought telling dramatic vibrancy to “Ah, lo previdi” – a veritable scena in which Andromeda’s powerful invective against Perseus is complemented by her eloquent solicitations, in music that both recalls Gluck and anticipates Berlioz. “Misera, dove son” is simpler in form and more restrained in mood, though this is not to underestimate the expressive acuity with which Mozart has characterised the protagonist’s berating of the gods.
After the interval, two early pieces by Shostakovich which together give a fair overview of his music in the years before Socialist Realist dogma took hold. Its uneven production at the Coliseum last year at least alerted London audiences to the musical richness of the ballet The Golden Age, of which the suite is an unusually well-balanced conspectus. Metzmacher dispatched the ‘Introduction’ with deadpan humour, then pointedly underlined the arching emotional intensity of ‘Adagio’ – abetted by soulful soprano-saxophone playing from Martin Robertson. The ‘Polka’, sardonic but never trivial, was followed by ‘Dance’ whose uproarious humour was not allowed to obscure its musical virtues.
Although his First Symphony emerged some four years earlier, it was Shostakovich’s compositional ‘rite of passage’ that set the tone – however unwittingly – for his maturity. Part of the success of this account was in teasing out the expressive ambiguity of the first three movements – the first deftly eliding the capricious and the balletic, the scherzo pivoting between the mechanistic and the mysterious, the Lento a plangent threnody of sustained though disruptive emotions – so that the extremes of motion and expression in the finale were given a more cohesive context.
Enhanced by excellent contributions from solo strings, Metzmacher’s purposeful yet thoughtful approach to this composer – familiar from previous London accounts of the Fourth and Eighth Symphonies – proved a welcome tonic to the overkill so often encountered last year. It set the seal on a fine evening’s music-making.