Symphony No.22 in E flat (The Philosopher)
Violin Concerto in D minor
Suite No.2 for Small Orchestra
Symphony No.38 in D, K504 (Prague)
Daniel Hope (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 19 May, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Hailing from the Czech Republic, 30-year-old Tomáš Netopil looks every inch the considered and technically adroit conductor. His elegant style, occasional flashes of temperament (otherwise he might be regarded as too smooth) and expressive sculpting of the music suggest a polished, decisive and confident musician. Yet the Haydn symphony told a different story to the ear. The first movement, an Adagio, plodded, with little beyond the slow-march rhythm to redeem it, not even the distinctive tang of a pair of cors anglais (with which Haydn replaces oboes, an instrument described as “ordinary” in the programme notes; “customary” is surely more apt.) Add in politically-correct non-vibrato strings, which here had a murky pallor, and the beauty and radiance of this movement went for little. And there was little charm in the three movements that followed, all rather relentless and lacking variegation, every repeat observed (the second one in the Adagio omitted, though), yet Netopil’s scrupulousness to ‘authenticity’ didn’t include antiphonal violins.
It was also ‘heads down’ for Schumann’s Violin Concerto, something of an oddball work from a composer then becoming ever-more mentally distressed. The Schumann family suppressed the work – but it has some fine things in it. Here, though, it seemed rather conventional and required less sanity than was brought to it here, despite Daniel Hope dealing impressively with the awkward solo part (in terms of playing the notes), his full ‘modern’ tone standing out from a generalised accompaniment. The opening movement lacked fantasy and danger, though, and what can be a very affecting slow movement dragged, being indulged and manicured. If the closing Polonaise veered to the stately tempo needed, while still being ‘normal’ (not a characteristic of this music), the eccentricity of the invention was underplayed.
Stravinsky’s Suite No.2 brought some extra brass and percussion for an 8-minute appearance (John Constable turning from Haydn’s harpsichord to a piano) for what was a tart and enlivening contrast with the rest of the programme, droll, insouciant and flippant, the four vignettes vividly played, Netopil encouraging a full-flavour response. Then it was back to ‘respectful’ for a perpendicular Prague Symphony that watered-down its majesty, pathos and wit, if allowing some vibrato, this time. Netopil observed all repeats (although didn’t follow Harnoncourt by going through the first movement’s second half again), but his observance of this aspect of the text seemed no more than slavish; what lingers in the memory though (in his otherwise too-flowing way with the Andante, despite the marking) was some affecting dynamic contrasts.