Music for the Royal Fireworks
Violin Concerto No.1 in D, Op.19
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92
Lisa Batiashvili (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 10 April, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
These days performances of Beethoven symphonies tend to come pre-packaged – fast and with various degrees of nod to being ‘historically aware’, all repeats rather slavishly observed. Yannick Nézet-Séguin had ticked all these boxes before he rehearsed the London Philharmonic, its members delivering a secure and committed response to its Principal Guest Conductor, string-players moderating vibrato for some ‘authentic’ tang, winds and brass let off the leash, timpani vivid. The performance won an enthusiastic and long ovation – triggered by a finale that was absurdly fast. However brilliant in terms of execution, if too detail-conscious to the extent of confusing ‘main’ and ‘subsidiary’ – the strings sometimes covered – this was all speed and fury, so many expressive possibilities glossed over. A shame! The preceding movement, the scherzo, is marked Presto. Nézet-Séguin put his foot down here, too – the result was delightfully fleet and light-footed, nimbly played, the trio decidedly slower (it could only be like this with the scherzo sections taken at such a pace) if still flowing yet just a little ponderous.
Yet, from the off, this performance had promised much. The slow introduction enjoyed weight and direction, quite thoughtful, the ensuing Vivace perky if a little impetuous – breathless – with a repeat of the exposition that seemed superfluous (ditto the finale’s), yet the development section really took wing to exhilarating effect. Nézet-Séguin then pulled off a coup with an electrifying attacca (unmarked but hugely effective, a few other conductors have also effected this) straight into the second movement. Following the revelry of the first one, its march-like successor moved with surprising deliberation, with solemn tread and privacy, beautifully played and painstaking as to dynamics and nuances.
The programme itself was an attractive miscellany that involved most of the LPO, if only requiring trombonists and a second harpist for the few minutes that Stravinsky’s Fireworks takes, music that lights up the sky and offers some respite when having a word with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (copyrighted to Paul Dukas ten years earlier than Stravinsky’s 1908 miniature). Nézet-Séguin really challenged the LPO with his headlong tempo, which he more or less vindicated in this glittering account to begin the concert’s second half. He also kept on the move Handel’s celebratory score heard here in a version for a standard smallish orchestra (Handel’s original is very extravagant) although there might have been a case for using Hamilton Harty’s augmented scoring. If the harpsichord was somewhat inaudible and buzzy-sounding, there was plenty of incident to enjoy in this joyful music-making (not least some heroic trumpet-playing) as well as graceful lilt and elegance.
Most completely satisfying, and a highlight of the season, was Lisa Batiashvili’s commanding and insightful playing of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, its three movements compact in design but overflowing with ideas. With soloist and orchestra wonderfully entwined, the music’s evocation, enchantment and angular arguments were revealed to compelling effect, whether it be the ribald contrasts of the first movement, the macabre electrification of the scherzo or the sultry colours and increasing eroticism of the finale – its envoi here being a golden sunset that left some earlier ice intact. Indeed, so Mediterranean-sounding were the opening bars of the last movement that one hopes Batiashvili, if she hasn’t already, will add William Walton’s Violin Concerto to her repertoire. Batiashvili was on top musical and technical form and found Nézet-Séguin and the LPO as scrupulous and sympathetic partners.