Scherzo capriccioso, Op.66
Violin Concerto, Op.15 [Revised Version]
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.54
Daniel Hope (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Mark Elder
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 10 June, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Currently conducting one of the great productions of any opera – namely Britten’s “Billy Budd” at Glyndebourne, in which singing, acting, sets and direction (the latter without whimsy or contrivance) come together for something truly exceptional in both musical and theatrical terms – Sir Mark Elder left the idyllic surroundings of East Sussex to return to ‘the smoke’ for what proved to be an equally outstanding concert.
Dvořák’s multi-faceted Scherzo capriccioso was deftly launched by the LSO’s horns to reveal a performance of Slavonic fire and fluctuations of pulse, character and mood, and, come the trio (Elder thankfully taking its repeat), much tenderness. A shame then that this section was intruded upon by a repeater-alarm and that its idiot-owner took so long to attend to the irritation (or maybe it stopped of its own accord). Elder and the LSO certainly left in no doubt that Scherzo capriccioso is a darker work than its title suggests, the closing bars – surely tragic and defiant rather than the “ebullient” put forward by Wendy Thompson in her programme note – driven to a powerful and desperate conclusion. Thompson also suggests that the harp solo towards the end of Scherzo capriccioso “… pays homage to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker…” – well, Dvořák’s piece dates from 1883 and the ballet-score was not heard until December 1892!
Continuing Elder’s current Britten odyssey, he was joined for the Violin Concerto by Daniel Hope who was standing in at short notice for an indisposed, advised-to-rest Janine Jansen. Hope has recorded the original version of Britten’s Violin Concerto but here played the familiar revision – and did so with musical and technical skills on full throttle in music (completed in 1939) that aches with humanity and warnings. Hope – aided by a wonderfully supportive LSO (as twittering, growling and surreptitious as the score demands), Elder now baton-less as he had been for “Billy Budd” two nights earlier, the seventh of twelve Glyndebourne performances – found the music’s poetry, edge and acerbity with an intensity that held the attention. Questions were asked, some were answered, but there was a void at the end, one ambiguous and dangerous, so that Holocaust connotations came to mind with Hope’s encore, Ravel’s ‘Kaddish’, one of his “Deux mélodies hébraïques”, here arranged for unaccompanied violin, and played as a soulful lament, akin to a Bach sarabande with Jewish inflections, that was spellbinding.
After the interval, Sir Mark conducted an amazingly involving and revealing Shostakovich 6 (also from 1939), an underrated work and one arguably greater than those Shostakovich symphonies that are more regularly played. If unusually designed – a long slow movement followed by two much-shorter scherzo-like ones – it’s an ingenious arrangement that has never seemed more convincing than here. Elder took the opening movement’s Largo marking at face value (and notched up a playing-time of twenty minutes, somewhat above the ‘average’), his very broad tempo really ratcheting-up the music’s potential, from the heroic opening statement (if one dogged by doubt) through the sadness, icy chill and frozen wastes that follow, and in doing so suggesting the fragile other-worldliness of the last movement of Mahler 9 (which Elder recently conducted with his Hallé Orchestra), the listener sucked into the music’s numbness (but with life under the surface) that was explicitly suggested and with LSO woodwind principals making the most of their melismatic solos.
This is a symphony that has no need of the posturing, ciphering or overt messaging that can perhaps compromise other Shostakovich works. Elder’s success was that he didn’t ‘read’ too much into the piece, yet gave the last two movements a gravity that they do not always receive – the second movement edgy and erupting with breathtaking force at its mid-point, the finale, while full of Rossinian bounce, found its carnival atmosphere made disturbingly sinister. This was a great performance of a great symphony, one that significantly altered one’s appreciation of it and which will cast a long shadow over future accounts.