LSO Concert – 19th December

Symphonie Concertante – Symphony No.5
Concerto in C for piano, violin, cello and orchestra, Op.56
The Rite of Spring

Stephen Hough (piano)
Leonidas Kavakos (violin)
Steven Isserlis (cello)

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ingo Metzmacher

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 19 December, 2001
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

No one has done more for Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-63) than Ingo Metzmacher. It was entirely characteristic of him to make his LSO debut with a Hartmann symphony. Anyone unfamiliar with Hartmann’s symphonic oeuvre, going on to explore it through his Fifth, is in for a surprise – this neo-classical, concise piece is not typical.

Playing for 17 minutes or so, scored for six cellos, four double basses, pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and trombones with piccolo, contra-bassoon and tuba, the concerto aspect originates in one for winds, double basses and two solo trumpets that Hartmann wrote in 1933 and revised in 1949; the Fifth Symphony the outcome.

Stravinskian in rhythmic guile, Hartmann’s harmonic language and textural heaviness looks to Hindemith, the Hindemith of the ’twenties in its pugnacious character. There isn’t though the frivolity or decadence that Hindemith associated with then; Hartmann is more severe and personal. Although elements of burlesque are intimated, the symphony’s heart is the slow movement’s transformation of the opening bassoon melody of Stravinsky’s Rite, the basis for introspective expression and a perfect foil for the outer movements’ pithy motifs and density. LSO ’soloists’ gave a very confident account under the scrupulous Metzmacher.

The Rite itself has suffered ’showpiece’ and ill-considered renditions in the last couple of years – shambolic Gergiev (RFH, 2000), high-tech Tilson Thomas (Proms 2000) or inconsistent Salonen (RFH, 2001 – click here to read the review). Metzmacher’s “no display” values were of constant dividend as he produced a Rite that, a few miscalculations aside, restored the work its precision, dance and sense of theatre. With the exception of ’Glorification of the Chosen One’, which spurted off and unsettled the whole, and an ensemble tangle as ’Dance of the Earth’ closed, this was a reading that concentrated on the music, Stravinsky’s celebration of nature, ritual, rhythm and his extension of notational boundaries. Occasionally there was too much timpani, bass drum and gong – detail carries so well in the Barbican now that it’s easy to overdo things – and, another consequence of the acoustic, the ’Introduction’ and ’Mystic Circles’ that open Part 2 were never quiet or atmospheric enough; muted trumpets lacking the hypnotic distance of Salonen.

Beethoven’s concerto isn’t a great piece but I have affection for it, which waned here. Metzmacher’s buoyant and eager introduction was greeted by a mellifluous, somewhat effete Isserlis, a rather edgy Kavakos (replacing Pamela Frank) – neither string player quite agreeing on pitch – and an urbane Hough. Lack of variety emphasised the first movement’s note-spinning, which was compensated by the second’s hush and lyrical import, and a spirited, deft finale.

Hopefully, the LSO will invite Ingo Metzmacher back – his wide sympathies and musicianship are always welcome.

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