Divertimento for Strings
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64 [Original Version]
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68
Daniel Hope (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 18 December, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The first movement of Bartók’s Divertimento was given with vigour, a full complement of strings (the work was written for chamber forces) no barrier to clarity or airy textures; yet Daniel Harding rather harried things along, putting strain on the concertino aspects (the soloists sacrificing accuracy to fit the notes in) and his strait-laced approach rather undid teasing aspects and witticisms, enough to make tempo contrasts seem contrived.
For all the sensitivity of the playing and the bleakness of tone conjured, the funereal strains of the middle movement (a deeply-felt lament for a Europe about to be engulfed in the last century’s second ‘world’ conflagration) lacked that last depth of despair, the slight rush at the apex of the climax enough to undermine the anguish. By contrast, the finale (most readily the divertimento that Bartók promises) went with real fizz – a vivid and articulate Hungarian dance – with a seamless turn into the fugal episode and no lack of irony when pizzicatos intone a waltz from Old Vienna.
The LSO’s programme note needed to be more informative as to which version of Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto was being played – in fact there was not even a mention that there is a choice. From early on there were some (if enough) small textural matters and the odd variance to the solo line (not forgetting a different cadenza) to suggest that Daniel Hope was playing the rarely-heard Original. Not that this account was the best-possible advert for Mendelssohn’s pre-revision thoughts – the first movement being too driven without any compensatory ‘appassionato’ (and suffering dubious intonation from the soloist), a slow movement that was rather arch and a finale that was a mad scramble – never mind the music, let’s see how fast we can play it!
Daniel Harding’s conducting of Brahms 1 was a curious mix of tradition and enlightenment. It was certainly very consciously moulded and sounded (weighty in the strings but without doubling the woodwinds, sometimes to latter’s detriment), the first movement (without exposition repeat – probably best) fluctuating in pace in all the ‘usual’ places. If Harding was attempting to balance Brahms the Classicist with Brahms the Romantic then it was the latter that surfaced in the richly expressive slow movement, which culminated in some poignancy as violin (Tomo Keller) and horn (John Ryan) intertwined meaningfully despite their relative distance. The finale was more Classical – taut and impetuous – Brahms’s abrupt tempo contrasts respected and the final bars a veritable triumph, not least for the ‘motto’ being accommodated a tempo (as Brahms intended) and here glorious for being integrated into the flow.