LSO/Haitink – Beethoven (1)

Overture – Leonora No.2, Op.72
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 16 November, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Another Beethoven cycle? Not quite. Surprisingly, given its Principal Conductor Sir Colin Davis’s eminence as a Beethovenian, this is actually the LSO’s first such in 21 years, and this opening concert (repeated, as they all will be) was exceptional. The symphonies are being recorded for LSO Live.

If ‘Leonora No.2’, splendidly played though it was (with excellently judged pauses), was a little too controlled, lacking the sheer abandon and theatricality which can bring this music so vividly to life, the performance of the Violin Concerto will long be remembered. There was total unanimity between Frank Peter Zimmermann and Bernard Haitink regarding swift speeds and a strong forward momentum in the outer movements. This was classical playing at its best and a glorious antidote to the interminable musings that this concerto can suffer. Zimmermann’s exceptionally pure intonation was a huge benefit and allied to the total control of his bowing arm (much in evidence in Kreisler’s cadenza for the first movement) and he knows when to accompany and when to occupy centre stage. This was a superbly executed and life-enhancing rendition.

Just over a year ago in the same hall Haitink gave a remarkable Beethoven 7 with Staatskapelle Dresden, another orchestra with which he enjoys the closest rapport. The differences between the two were instructive. Whilst both were magisterial, large-scale readings, the re-seated LSO (antiphonal violins, with double basses on the left) was somehow lighter on its feet. This was especially notable in the cannily paced Allegretto second movement, with some closely defined detail from the violas. There was also the sheer quality of the LSO’s wind-playing. Characterised by unremitting energy and momentum, even if it occasionally bordered on the pugnacious, Haitink revealed Beethoven on the grandest, most heroic canvas, the well-marinated sum of his lifetime’s involvement with this music.

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