Philharmonia Orchestra/Masur – Bruckner 7 – Arabella Steinbacher plays Mendelssohn

Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.7 in E [Edition by Robert Haas]

Arabella Steinbacher (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Kurt Masur

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 2 February, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Arabella Steinbacher. ©Robert VanoEschewing an overture it was straight into Mendelssohn’s ubiquitous Violin Concerto (there’s also one in D minor, by the way) that continues to work overtime in concert programmes. Arabella Steinbacher gave it a fresh, deft and poetic outing, complemented by a scrupulously echt accompaniment under a renowned Mendelssohn conductor devoted enough to not need the score. Steinbacher’s sweet-toned and poised playing was a constant delight, her generous phrasing and Bach-like clarity conjured a thoughtful, introspective, rapt and purposeful performance, tender in the slow movement, here a ‘song without words’, and articulate in the so-easily-rushed-through finale, for once creating expressive space where a meaningless flurry of notes usually exists. Evergreen status restored.

The Philharmonia’s programme offered no clue as to which edition of Bruckner 7 Kurt Masur was conducting. And the re-used note by the late William Mann (who died in 1989) only made mention of an even earlier Bruckner editor, Josef Wöss, while anticipating that the slow movement’s controversial pair of cymbals, triangle and, indeed, timpani would be included. It’s no secret that Masur favours Robert Haas’s score, which excludes all percussion at the Adagio’s climax – and rightly so given the uncertain identity (Schalk, Nikisch?) Kurt Masur. Photograph: Radio France/Christophe Abramowitzas to the author’s hand at this point.

Beginning on the slenderest of string tremolos, the venerable Masur (born 1927), again with no need of copy if with minimal gestures, unfolded a performance of discretion and certainty, devotedly played, the slow movement being of solemn beauty and radiant contrasts, the scherzo measured (given an attractive lilt), the trio integrated with it. The first movement was equally seamless (another advantage of using Haas, who marks less-loud dynamics and fewer changes of tempo than does his successor Leopold Nowak), the delayed appearance of timpani made dramatic. The finale was deliberate, flexible and exalting, Masur the master of extending a pause and building long paragraphs.

Some climaxes though were dominated by overly-loud brass (surprising for this conductor) and not helped by the Philharmonia employing more brass-players than Bruckner asks for (not the only orchestra so to do), but, throughout this wise and wholesome performance, there was a meeting of minds and a touching of hands with the composer, his spirit and his spirituality, which by the close had become special – and, unusually for London, greeted by several seconds of silence before anyone applauded.

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