The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op.109
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Clarke
Reviewed: 25 March, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Daniel Harding’s meteoric rise to stardom is the stuff dreams are made of. His biography parades the names of the orchestras he has conducted (a list that includes the Vienna and Berlin Philahrmonics). Expectations were high – posters of Harding abound on London tube-station walls, all promising much in the present series of four Barbican Hall concerts.
Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel of 1896 is a 25-minute-plus symphonic poem with a grizzly fairy-tale story taken from Erben. Dornicka is the name of the girl who gets dismembered by her stepmother; it is only years later that the spinning-wheel of the title saves the day and effectively revivifies the heroine. The work needs a conductor who can bring out the work’s narrative qualities while still ensuring that a coherent structure is evident.
Alas, Harding is not that conductor. The performance he directed was diffuse and the orchestral playing mirrored the patchwork effect; moments of delight (a lovely violin solo, for example) vied with some distinctly messy ensemble.
Frank Peter Zimmermann was the soloist in Alban Berg’s astonishing Violin Concerto. Zimmermann played with real assurance and was totally attuned to Berg’s music. His technique was rock steady (left-hand pizzicatos and the stratospherically high, long final note, for example). The orchestra, too, seemed more confident, bringing a most appealing sense of warmth to the Allegretto to balance the later foreboding of the ominous Hauptrhythmus. The chorale made a real emotional mark.
Finally, Dvořák’s most well-known symphony in a variable and unpredictable performance. The felt-like texture of the opening was notable, and there were many fine flute solos (from guest principal Clara Andrada). But the first movement suffered from intermittent rushing and the brass introduction to the famous second movement Largo began with resoundingly splattered ensemble. This was an account of the ‘New World’ ennobled only by virtue of orchestral soloists (a golden-toned cor anglais deserves equal billing with the flute). The laboured finale suggested doubts about the claims made for Harding.