Philharmonia Orchestra/David Afkham with Carolin Widmann – Lindberg, Berg and Schubert’s Great C major

Magnus Lindberg
Violin Concerto
Symphony No.9 in C, D944 (Great)

Carolin Widmann (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
David Afkham

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 8 May, 2014
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Carolin Widmann. Photograph: KassKaraIt probably seemed a good idea to preface a performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto with Magnus Lindberg’s Chorale, the composer basing his short work on ‘Es ist genug’ from J. S. Bach’s funeral cantata O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (BWV60), which is also quoted towards the end of the Berg. In practice, those listeners who know the Violin Concerto may have felt that Lindberg’s “meditation” uses the theme rather too repetitively and in a fashion that doesn’t match Berg’s inspiration and indeed lessening the impact in the latter’s work.

David Afkham. Photograph: Felix Broede The advertised soloist, Sergey Khachatryan, was indisposed, and Carolin Widmann took over at a few days’ notice. Hers was a distinguished account, delivered with impeccable technique and a pure and attractive tone. She conveyed the deep emotions contained in the work very effectively, not through the introverted, ruminative approach adopted by some distinguished violinists of the past, but in a directly expressive, highly communicative fashion. Her high skills were matched by the Philharmonia Orchestra’s playing, which under the young German conductor David Afkham had admirable clarity: inner detail that we don’t usually hear in this work was brought to the fore, and there was much fine artistry in evidence.

You wouldn’t expect a youthful musician to linger in Schubert’s ‘Great C major’ Symphony and Afkham certainly didn’t. The opening of the work was played in a very purposeful fashion, but in the ensuing Allegro it was at once noticeable that the conductor was letting the music breathe; there was no hard driving, but instead airy, dance-like rhythms and light accents; immensely likeable and almost intimate. As in the Concerto, inner voices were allowed their full say. The Andante might have sounded a trifle brisk in other hands, but Afkham’s eloquent, sometimes caressing gestures brought a lilting, buoyant quality to the music. The scherzo had engaging freshness, and there was some lovely phrasing in the trio. The finale was again fairly brisk but exhilarating in its optimism and openhearted spirit. David Afkham is a highly individual talent

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