Verklärte Nacht, Op.4
Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 20 April, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London Queen Elizabeth Hall
Just a month after his successful Mozart/Shostakovich concerts, Ingo Metzmacher was back with the London Philharmonic for a similarly bracing programme: one that was neatly designed so that it focused on the principal orchestral departments as heard separately and then in combination.
Thus the concert began with a reading of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht that eschewed the illustrative tendencies notable in Esa-Pekka Salonen’s recent account in this venue in favour of a symphonic abstraction. Not that this omitted a keen sense of atmosphere in the opening evocation of night or a cumulative emotion in the impassioned second section, with the textural intricacy of the writing for sub-divided violins (all placed on the left of the platform) readily apparent. The ensuing interlude had the right degree of sombre pathos, and the only marginal disappointment was a fourth section whose tonal and expressive resolution felt overly reined-in. What this did ensure was an overall impact that was wholly in proportion, capped by a postlude that mingled elation and repose to a satisfying degree.
From the Schoenberg the budding Romantic to Stravinsky the reinvented Classicist, and the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments that marked the onset of his neo-classical phase in earnest. A work not so much problematic as unlovable, its tensile pianism and acerbic ensemble-writing for brass and woodwind, joined by double basses and timpani, has tended to encourage an approach of ruthless efficiency. Marc-André Hamelin duly met its ‘challenges’ head on, with a first movement in which the ceremonial seriousness of the introduction was brought into touch by the Allegro’s streamlined but never mechanistic energy. A measure of poetry then surfaced in the slow movement, in which the chordal writing that characterises the solo part was lucidly integrated into the dense instrumental texture, and the finale’s edgy wit was tempered by a humour that made plausible the nonchalant final bars. A protean giver of recitals, Hamelin is not often encountered as a concerto soloist in the UK. The conviction of the present performance – one in which Metzmacher gave a further reminder of just how fine an accompanist he is – certainly suggested that we should hear more of him in this capacity.
Nascent Romanticism followed by reinvigorated Classicism makes for a reasonable analogy with which to differentiate Beethoven’s Third and Fourth Symphonies – the latter work concluding the concert. Metzmacher’s purposeful way with the first movement’s introduction did not prepare one for the main Allegro – coursing and at times headlong, but never over-driven and with excellent articulation from strings. The woodwinds came into their own in a slow movement that confirmed it as concealing ‘hidden depths’ like no other in a Beethoven symphony, for all that the music’s wistful elegance looks back affectionately to Haydn. The third movement found an ideal accommodation between minuet-like poise and scherzo-like energy, though a fractional pause before each trio section briefly impeded momentum. The finale had an ideal combination of wit and effervescence – Metzmacher alive to the formal puns with which Beethoven peppers this most generous-spirited of his symphonic finales.
A convincing and enjoyable performance, then, which the LPO players seemed to respond to in kind. Metzmacher has no concerts scheduled with the LPO next season, which is regrettable, especially in the light of his conducting of Beethoven, which was insightful and entertaining in equal measure.