Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
Horn Concerto No.2 in E flat
Ein Heldenleben, Op.40
Radovan Vlatković (horn)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Bob Briggs
Reviewed: 11 February, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Seventy years after its creation, Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta still has the power to shock, but, with the benefit of hindsight, we are able to see, and hear, the intense romanticism of the music, the heartfelt emotion within the unusual soundworld Bartók employs. This performance was full of that emotional expression, the LSO revelling in the big, bold, strokes which permeate the music. However, despite this being an obviously well-rehearsed and thought-out interpretation it was also strangely uninvolving. During the opening fugue, which was played with great clarity, every entry being clearly heard, I lost interest and suddenly, almost unbidden, the climax burst out without preparation. The other movements had a similar effect, and no matter how good the playing I simply could not keep interest in the progress of the music. Valery Gergiev delivered a very romantic performance but was without being gripping, and if there’s anything this music is, it’s gripping!
The same could be said of Richard Strauss’s Second Horn Concerto which has its own problems in performing it, for this is restrained Strauss, Indian summer reverie. As with the Bartók, this was a beautifully turned-out performance, Radovan Vlatković replacing David Pyatt, which failed to engage; like the Bartók, it wasn’t a boring performance, but without the spark that elevates a performance into something special.
After the interval, however, was a performance of Ein Heldenleben of such titanic power, and heartbreaking simplicity that it was hard to believe that it was from the same conductor. Mustering his huge forces, Gergiev directed an account of great stature. Special mention must be made of leader Andrew Haveron, who took the part of the hero’s companion with aplomb. Gergiev seemed totally at home with this gigantic score, and he delivered a Heldenleben devoid of sentiment and bluster.