Der Freischütz – Overture
Symphony No.1 in B flat, Op.38 (Spring)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Arabella Steinbacher (violin)
Christoph von Dohnányi
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 2 December, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Given the deep-freeze that is encompassing most parts of the UK, and making travelling in London particularly fraught, it seemed a touch incongruous to have Schumann’s ‘Spring’ Symphony on the programme! That said, Schumann may have believed that the symphony is about the ‘spring of love’ – Liebesfrühling – and his wife Clara maintained it was named after the “Spring” poems of Adolf Böttger. Whatever the exact meaning of the title, this performance, under the ever-welcome Christoph von Dohnányi, now the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Honorary Conductor for Life, was fresh and visionary.
It was pleasing to hear an account of this music that was unhurried, the opening movement beginning with a firm tread as a prelude to flowing expression and textures imbued with élan. Dohnányi seemed determined to blow away winter blues. A successful blend between sentimentality and regret allowed the slow movement to breathe its lovely outpourings. For sustained ebullience nothing quite beats the finale, here uplifting and with judicious balances.
Opening the concert was the Overture to Weber’s “Der Freischütz”, which displayed fine playing, especially from horns and cellos, Dohnányi deriving urgent, strident, tense and confident feelings through the course of the music. The pauses at the end were fun, Dohnányi particularly theatrical.
After the interval came a magisterial account of Brahms’s Violin Concerto, with the assured Arabella Steinbacher in full command of her instrument: perfect double-stopping and spot-on intonation, though that was at the expense of integration with the orchestra. Her technique and prowess with the violin may be phenomenal, but she eschewed delicacy in favour of boldness throughout. Quite how she failed to conjure beauty in the slow movement was a mystery – soothing but superficial – though, at last, the finale enjoyed musicianship rather than just playing the notes. Dohnányi’s accompaniment was glorious and full of surprises, no mean achievement in this most-familiar music. As an encore Steinbacher offered Fritz Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo: her most expressive playing of the evening.