Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 19 January, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
In this performance of the Pastoral, pleasant feelings were certainly evoked by one’s arrival in the countryside. Speeds for all five movements were conspicuously well chosen, consistently forward moving but always allowing one to savour the passing landscape. The first movement, complete with repeat, sounded not a moment too long whilst the ‘Scene by the brook’ meandered not at all, Beethoven’s unusual marking, Andante molto moto, being understood with particular care lavished on the joins between sections. The Birdsong at the movement’s close, arriving at 8 p.m. on the dot, was augmented by a flock of electronic beeps from watches. (God help us!) The ensuing ‘Peasants Merrymaking’ was neither jollied-along nor hammed-up whilst the ‘Storm’ was allowed to build to the most convincing climax. Had the finale’s Benediction been on the same exalted level, this would have been a superlative performance. Unfortunately it got off to a bad start when the solo horn muffed his all-important lead-in to the ‘thanksgiving’ string theme and further split notes followed from the rest of the section; a degree of the earlier magic had been lost – a real pity.
The Seventh was similarly impressive – lean, focussed strings, detail impressively worked out – but, for all its virtues, it did not erase memories of Staatskapelle Dresden’s recent, extraordinarily impressive rendition with Bernard Haitink at the Barbican. Masur did not play the first movement repeat and the second movement brought the one controversial tempo of the evening, decidedly on the slow side for an Allegretto, although one could follow his reasoning given the full complement of strings. The scherzo, however, was cunningly paced, just measured enough to integrate the trio. The headlong finale sounded determined rather than Dionysian and one felt a certain degree of strain creeping into the playing; hardly surprising given the orchestra’s punishing schedule.
All said, whatever the occasional fallibility in execution, Masur’s cycle is turning out to be extraordinarily impressive in its combination of interpretative penetration, textual fidelity, and Beethovenian vigour. The recordings due for release on the LPO’s own label will be well worth acquiring – but there were no microphones present at this concert!