Masur New World

Ruy Blas – Overture, Op.95
Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra in A minor, Op.102
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin) & Lynn Harrell (cello)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Kurt Masur

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 2 October, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

The well-balanced, majestic, opening chords of the Mendelssohn commanded attention, a promising start not always maintained throughout this splendid overture. Kurt Masur’s kinship with Mendelssohn, with the Leipzig Gewandhaus tradition, is beyond question, yet a certain strictness didn’t always allow the music to take wing, and the woodwind writing was kept a little too much under wraps and failed to sparkle.

Brahms wrote his Double Concerto as an attempt to heal a rift with violinist Joseph Joachim (who had played, even helped compose Brahms’s Violin Concerto). Maybe that the idea for the ‘Double’ had come from cellist Robert Hausmann explains why the cello has the opening gambit, here played with warmth and rumination by Lynn Harrell, a decided contrast with the acerbic tone of the more objective Anne-Sophie Mutter. Indeed, these two soloists could be viewed as either perfect foils or a mismatch. Whereas Harrell played with conviction, romance and spontaneity, if a little too much legato, Mutter’s engagement had more to do with efficiency, her strident top register stinging the ear; the pair were not always unanimous and were over-strenuous in the slow movement, and both had a moment or two of queasy intonation. The first movement, although quite appropriately intimate, lacked enough variety to sustain its length; the finale, launched attacca (which prevented applause!) was spirited if a little inflexible. Harrell’s solos were mostly a joy, but with a few uncertainties from the orchestra, and some inconsistencies of approach, this was a fickle performance.

The second half, though, consisted of a simply outstanding account of the ‘New World’. Masur conducted with such persuasiveness that even his unusual tempo relationships in the scherzo were convincing, the trio being delectable in rhythm and wafts of sound. This is music so often played that it is likely to be treated with contempt. Masur conducted with affection and insight, with elasticity and largesse, brought distinction to individual episodes without compromising structural coherence, and got to the work’s locus and emotional core without artifice.

The first movement (exposition repeat observed) moved with ease and buoyancy, the much abused slow movement was candid and all the more moving for it – Sue Bohling’s cor anglais solo was exquisitely turned and the solo string playing towards the close was remarkably inward (a shame, though, that some members of the audience couldn’t resist sharing their bronchial problems) – and the finale gathered all before it without sacrificing ardour.

Throughout, the LPO played with commitment and sensitivity, and Masur’s reining-in the brass to integrated rather than blaring effect was yet another welcome part of this inspiring performance.

  • LPO
  • Concert broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 5 October at 7.30

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