Violin Concerto in G, K216
Arabella Steinbacher (violin)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 1 December, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
There seems to be a school of interpretation that places expressive emphasis on the work’s opening movement and renders the finale almost as an extended apotheosis. Maazel’s approach was not this clear-cut, though he did draw out the opening Andante comodo considerably (for 32 minutes, in fact, of the 85-minute whole). More intriguingly, Mahler’s most impressive symphonic span unfolded at pretty much an unbroken pulse – enabling Maazel to progress between climaxes and transitions with seamless continuity. The downside was a loss of that cumulative intensity as this most formally intricate of movements alternately withdraws almost beyond earshot only to re-emerge with renewed purpose: the topography of the music was palpably realised but not necessarily its awesome peaks or pensive depths, though the easeful unravelling of motifs during the coda was conveyed with ineffable poise.
Less provocative in the remaining movements, Maazel adopted a lively pace for the Ländler sequence that follows – not so concerned with characterization per se than the strategic interplay of tempos, and only the third main theme seeming tentative with regard to its place in the formal scheme of things. Any intended equivocation was brushed aside in a tough and at times ruthless account of the ‘Rondo-Burleske’ – its contrapuntal dexterity bristling with self-mocking indignation, the rueful naïveté of the trio only waylaying the (unerringly paced) re-gathering of energy and final onslaught.
The Adagio proceeded as a determined yet not inevitable final chapter. Its initial phrase marked-off almost as an epigraph, the movement displayed formidable contrast between paragraphs of massed-string fervour and those in which only the barest outlines are audible. The twilight episode halfway-through was a little staid and the ensuing culmination not wholly free of bathos, but the winding-down to the ‘long farewell’ of the coda was admirably carried through by the Philharmonia, Maazel once again demonstrating that, when it comes to realising the fullest extent of his intentions, he has few equals.
In contrast to this unbridled unleashing of orchestral might, the first half had seen the Philharmonia Orchestra reduced to Classical proportions for an account of Mozart’s G major Violin Concerto bringing pertness and suavity into one accord. Arabella Steinbacher evinced a winsome tone throughout the Adagio; with Maazel’s pointing-up of subtle harmonic discords in the woodwind giving the music unsuspected depths. In the outer movements, the performance was satisfying without being revelatory, though opting for Sam Franko’s cadenzas allowed Steinbacher’s burnished eloquence of tone full rein.