LSO/Haitink – Beethoven (3)

Concerto for piano, violin and cello in C, Op.56
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)

Gordan Nikolitch (violin)
Tim Hugh (cello)
Lars Vogt (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 26 November, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Three instalments into his cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies, Bernard Haitink prefaced the Pastoral with a performance of that Cinderella of Beethoven’s concertos, the Triple. LSO Leader and co-cellist – Gordan Nikolitch and Tim Hugh – were joined by Lars Vogt in a tightly executed rendition, visibly reinforced by the proximity of the players, Hugh sitting raised on one of the individual risers the LSO favours at the Barbican, rather than the usual, larger plinth favoured by solo cellists. Sandwiched between Nikolitch and Vogt in a tight knot, as if a single instrument, not three, this left Haitink and the slimmed down orchestral forces (just four double basses) pushed far back on the stage.

This setting afforded a pleasing forward focus for the three soloists, with only the cello line sometimes being subsumed by the orchestra, although Hugh revelled his starting solos in each of the movements. Visually rather disconcerting, as he dances every note he plays, Nikolitch’s contribution may be better heard on the LSO Live recording. Vogt – a peerless chamber player – was as attentive to his fellow players (leaning back and beaming at both) as he was to his own solo part.

For the Pastoral Haitink favoured six double basses, perhaps feeling a full set of eight (as used in the Eroica earlier in the week) might unbalance the textures. Using not only hard sticks on the timpani, but also the new (well, not so new now) Bärenreiter edition, by Jonathan Del Mar, there were few surprises in this Pastoral, just a fabulous performance that epitomised the qualities of this burgeoning cycle – pure music-making by a great conductor and an orchestra that responds magnificently to his every request. Typically it was a fleet-footed performance, exciting in the full-throttle development of the storm, meltingly lyrical in both opening and closing movements. The ‘Scene by the Brook’ was easily accomplished in a free-flowing two-in-a-bar, and offered the solo winds every opportunity to shine, which they did faultlessly.

As a live performance – and with a particularly well-behaved audience – this could almost go straight into the can. April sees the completion of the series, with symphonies 1, 4, 5, 8 and 9.

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