Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op.45
Susan Gritton (soprano) & Thomas Hampson (baritone)
Philharmonia Chorus & Philharmonia Voices
Christoph von Dohnányi
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 16 February, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Lively Beethoven and Brahms’s magisterial greatest single achievement (which is saying something) made an apt and stimulating pairing in this Philharmonia Orchestra concert, Christoph von Dohnányi ensuring a high level of preparation and much musical distinction.
If not without its darker side – such as the moody slow introduction and the surge of passion at the centre of the slow movement – Beethoven 4 is a sunny symphony, given here with nimble propulsion and exact ensemble in a performance both robust and athletic to which the Adagio was serenely slow but with definite pulse. The scherzo – very fleet – retained its shape through chiselled rhythms (the trio accommodated with legerdemain and refinement), and the finale swished along – if arguably too fast – a perpetuum mobile running like clockwork and no little wit, Amy Harman unfazed at negotiating the bassoon solo at this speed; each of her notes was clear.
Brahms’s A German Requiem has the capacity to console, inspire and elevate – and did so on this occasion. The Philharmonia Voices and Philharmonia Chorus combined for a dynamic and unanimous contribution, with blended tone as well as palpable dedication and humanity. The Philharmonia Orchestra responded with felicitously detailed playing, not least from horns and timpani, and there was much eloquence from woodwind soloists. Thomas Hampson (replacing Simon Keenlyside) made a compassionate and word-conscious contribution, Susan Gritton a pure and radiant one. From the front, Dohnányi ensured that 70 minutes passed in the most spiritually spellbinding way: from deeply expressive via placid contemplation to (seamlessly reached) fiery eruptions (the choruses of Handelian splendour were thrilling) and, finally, accepting transcendence. This was altogether special; hopefully Signum will be adding this German Requiem to its Philharmonia/Dohnányi Brahms symphonies.