Philharmonia/Frans Brüggen

Symphony No.36 in C, K425 (Linz)
Sinfonia concertante in E flat for violin, viola and orchestra, K364
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Marianne Thorsen (violin) & Lawrence Power (viola)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Frans Brüggen

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 23 May, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Something of a ‘Mozart Marathon’, every repeat observed in both symphonies except, curiously, the second half of the Linz’s finale. Thus No.36 was no mere curtain-raiser, although the early minutes of it did set out Frans Brüggen’s stall well enough – a forward-moving slow introduction and a tempo-related Allegro that had time on its side yet which seemed to get faster as it proceeded. The seated Brüggen was a benign guide, his gestures minimal, the music’s inner momentum coming from within the orchestra, a reduced one in the screened-off Queen Elizabeth Hall, the symphonies founded on five double basses, the violins antiphonal. Even so, woodwind detail didn’t always shine forth, and although trumpets were a presence, Andrew Smith’s timpani rarely spoke in anger and, although obviously by design, were often too reticent.

Brüggen’s insistence on not a trace of vibrato became boorish as the evening progressed, the strings’ ‘ancient pallor’ contributing to making the concert a long haul (except if listening passively). The Andante of the Linz was a highlight, though: flowing and songful, even if observing the second repeat did seem no more than dutiful. The finale may be marked Presto, but trying to make it one sometimes made the notes only just fit. The Philharmonia’s programme, admittedly only intended as a guide, suggested 26 minutes for the Linz; bearing in mind Brüggen ‘lost’ a repeat and was no slouch over tempo (and certainly not in the ‘slow’ movement), this account took 33.

The great Sinfonia concertante seemed anything but. Two-thirds of the Leopold String Trio joined the Philharmonia and played along in tuttis (presumably at the behest of Brüggen, another ‘period’ touch) and while both displayed admirable technique, and plenty of vibrato (!), neither soloist got inside the music, Marianne Thorsen’s clear-cut delivery giving more pleasure. Lawrence Power visually emoted but his actual delivery wasn’t commensurate with the gestures and he indulged an inelegant ‘swoop’ somewhere in the first movement that sort of summed it up. (He enjoyed it!) Rarely was there depth of engagement, the wonderful slow movement failing to touch nerves, and only an ultra-pianissimo ‘moment’ in the opening exposition caught the attention.

Throughout the concert, of civilised and scholarly renditions, the Philharmonia Orchestra, with so many notes to play (the more so with Brüggen’s generosity of repeats) brought unfailing conviction and elegance. The odd whimsical fluctuation of pulse aside, the Jupiter Symphony was ‘as expected’ – crisp, animated and somewhat within parameters. It was the slow movement that once again compelled, pellucid and expressively fluid. Fortunately, Brüggen observed the second repeat in the finale (so important in helping to ratchet-up power before the miraculous five-part coda), yet the swift tempo somewhat undermined the music’s majesty, although some timpani thwacks were now cutting through the air like long-lost friends.

  • Second performance at QEH on May 25
  • Philharmonia Orchestra
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