Mostly Mozart – Lindberg Violin Concerto & Eroica

Don Giovanni – Overture
Oboe Concerto in C, K314
Violin Concerto [UK premiere]
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

François Leleux (oboe)

Lisa Batiashvili (violin)

Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 27 July, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The Barbican Centre’s “Mostly Mozart” festival continues to branch out in terms of repertoire, and now to the extent of including the British premiere of a major new work by a leading contemporary figure. While he is no longer the firebrand modernist of the 1980s and early ’90s, Magnus Lindberg is a composer few would describe as Mozartean; thus his Violin Concerto may well have come as a surprise to many.

Seemingly a pleasant surprise, though, given the warmth of its reception. Playing continuously for around 27 minutes, the concerto falls into three sections – but Lindberg’s handling of these is hardly orthodox. The first ‘movement’ is governed largely by the unfolding of its material across various registers, thesoloist revelling in incisive passagework and lyrical arabesques while the orchestra – limited to double wind (no flutes or clarinets) and strings, as befits the context – sets up a firm though never inflexible harmonic underpinning. Twice the music moves forward in cumulative waves of energy – the second letting the soloist off the leash in a way that will determine the momentum of the ‘slow movement’, in which a wind chorale methodically works its way through the texture. Again the music emerges in accelerating waves – the second of these precipitating a volatile cadenza (with some pungent interjections from double basses), before the ‘finale’ seems set to wrap up the work with a brilliant toccata. The climax, though, brings a return of the chorale in what is a typically fervent Lindberg apotheosis.

As with that for clarinet, Lindberg’s Violin Concerto is a significant addition to its repertoire, and if the present reception was largely for Lisa Batiashvili’s assumption of the solo part, this was hardly unwarranted. A player having previously impressed for her sense of line and purity of intonation, she demonstrated a virtuosity second-to-none among what is now a formidable crop of younger violinists, while her co-ordination with the orchestra – aided by Thomas Dausgaard being among the most astute accompanists of present-day conductors – impressed with its precision and unanimity. The question remains as to whether – and in line with most of his works from the last decade – Lindberg is merely offering a gloss on salient aspects of his Nordic heritage, or investing it with qualities more personal. At least on first hearing, his Violin Concerto left a vital and – thanks to Batiashvili – commanding impression. (Expect a recording of the Lindberg from Batiashvili, coupled with Sibelius’s Concerto, before the end of the year on Sony/BMG, Sakari Oramo conducting.)

The Lindberg ended a lengthy first half that had otherwise consisted of Mozart. Dausgaard steered a sure course through the Overture to “Don Giovanni”, not overdoing the portentousness of its introduction and drawing a fine irony from the blithe music that follows. François Leleux joined the orchestra for an inspiriting account of the Oboe Concerto – his elegant but never saccharine tone ideal in music that finds Mozart at his most galant, and providing cadenzas that ably combined imaginative freedom and stylistic consistency, though his animated manner makes even the great Heinz Holliger look sedate!

Nothing if not ambitious, Dausgaard devoted the second half to Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’. Those familiar with this, or any other volumes in his and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra’s excellent survey of the orchestral music (on Simax) will know just how positively he effects the compromise between historical awareness and interpretative license. The first movement – exposition repeat (wrongly?) included – was powerfully shaped at a driving tempo in which articulation did not suffer; the apex of the development section was startling in its dissonance, and control of tension in the coda was judged to a nicety. The ‘Marcia funebre’ was kept moving but lacked nothing in pathos – the central fugato infused with a sense of striving rather than yearning, and the disintegrating final bars touching in their inwardness. The main section of the scherzo did not ‘shimmer’ but had the required incisiveness, while the trio brought out the best in a trio of horns that – if not always at their best – here excelled in their jocose interplay. In the finale, Dausgaard reinforced the ingenuity of its developing-variation form with an excitement and, in the closing stages, surging grandeur that made it all of a piece to what had gone before.

A memorable account, then, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra had enough in reserve for a charged rendition of Sibelius’s Andante festivo – hardly Mozartean, but wholly appropriate in the 50th year since Sibelius’s death, and more than welcome when played with this degree of plangency.

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