LPO New Season – Mozart, Strauss & Stravinsky

Concerto in D
Piano Concerto No.25 in C, K503
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme – Suite
Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543

Paul Lewis (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Ion Marin

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 21 September, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The London Philharmonic’s new season (the first of two full years that it and the Philharmonia Orchestra will spend in the Queen Elizabeth Hall) got underway on a slightly unfortunate note in thatIngo Metzmacher was indisposed – bringing the much-lauded Ion Marin to the podium for an unchanged programme which freely partook of musical Classicism from both the distant and more recent past.

One admirable aspect of the LPO’s new season is the consideration given to programme-building in a significantly smaller venue – resulting in a concert such as the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields might have given in its heyday. That said, there seemed too many desks of strings for Stravinsky’s Concerto in D – the lithe textures of whose outer movements emerged rather too muddily, for all that Marin set relatively moderate tempos and with a central ‘Arioso’ given with suavity of a distinctly Tchaikovskian kind.

No such problem affected Mozart’s final piano concerto in the key of C – the most imposing of all his works for the medium and one ideally suited to the QEH acoustic. It also gave ample opportunity for Paul Lewis to display his seamless legato and deft flights of fancy, even though it was some way into the first movement before he and Marin gelled interpretatively. Lewis chose the cadenza by his mentor Alfred Brendel that came across as a sequence of expressive non-sequiturs, yet whose functioning as a virtual second development was a reminder of this concerto’s proximity to those by Beethoven. The Andante – one of Mozart’s most subtle – was exquisitely poised, and if the nonchalance of the finale could have been more sharply pointed, its robust energy was handsomely conveyed.

After the interval, a rare outing for the music that Strauss adapted from his music to Molière’s “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” – originally a double-bill with the first (1912) version of “Ariadne auf Naxos” – and, at 35 minutes or so, a suite that includes almost all of the score. It is commonplace nowadays to view this music as a forerunner of the updating of Baroque music with which Stravinsky made waves in “Pulcinella” seven years later: in fact, Strauss’s approach is more akin to that adopted by several other composers at this time (notably Respighi’s first suite of Ancient Airs and Dances, and Tommasini’s ballet after Scarlatti, The Good-Humoured Ladies) in its relaxed and shamelessly nostalgic handling of the source material.

It still makes for a diverting and enjoyable listen – especially the gallant ‘Overture’, the ‘Entry and Dance of the Tailors’ (leader Boris Garlitsky relishing his turn in the spotlight), the affectionate ‘Minuet’ after Lully, and the extensive ‘Dinner’ sequence in which Strauss gives vent to his penchant for musical allusion. Marin presided over a leisurely but never sluggish performance, whose sense of style made one regret that at least some of this music does not feature more regularly as a concert item.

An already full-length concert still had Mozart’s late E flat Symphony to come. By eschewing all repeats save those in the first half of the Minuet, Marin kept it short – though the opening Allegro did feel a little short-winded, and the closing Presto risked seeming inconsequential. Despite appearing to get slower over its course, the Andante had the right degree of pathos, while the Minuet flowed into an elegant account of the mellifluous trio. One of the earlier symphonies (No.34?) might have been more appropriate in context, but there was much to enjoy in the present account – which rounded off an otherwise well-balanced and appealing start to the LPO’s new season.

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