Philharmonia Orchestra/Masur – Mozart 39 & Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony

Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Symphony No.4 in E flat (Romantic) [edition used not identified]

Philharmonia Orchestra
Kurt Masur

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 18 February, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Kurt Masur. Photograph: kurtmasur.comKurt Masur has been a significant figure in the music-making of London for many years. He has conducted the LSO and held positions with the Royal Philharmonic and, most recently, the London Philharmonic. In addition he has paid regular visits to London with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Orchestre National de France. Dates with the Philharmonia Orchestra have been few and far between; there were some in the early 1970s and nothing since April 1993, a fundraising performance (for Mendelssohn-Haus) of “Elijah” in St Paul’s Cathedral.

This reunion (to be followed with concerts of this programme in Belgium and Germany) found Masur playing to his considerable strengths, conducting Bruckner especially, although why he cut the this composer’s scherzo in half on its reprise is a solecism that requires an explanation; it stopped halfway through and we then carried straight into the finale!

Arguably pairing Mozart and Bruckner is now rather ‘pat’ – Haydn would be more appropriate for the later master – but, anyway, the former’s symphony began in stately and warm terms, an introduction to an elegant account, one of poised energy when required and unaffected eloquence at others. Just occasionally the (grouped together) violins were exposed in matters of ensemble, and were also a little uncertain, and crisper timpani would have been welcome. All repeats were in place (save for the second half of the finale, which is always a shame to miss out on) and if this was a performance very much ‘modern-traditional’ then it was also a tonic for being so.

Apart from the ‘corrupted’ scherzo – a remarkable aberration on Masur’s part (and not to forget the six horns and four each of trumpets and trombones, which do not relate to any numbers requested by the composer, and some editorial conundrums that seemed a mix of Haas and Nowak) – the Bruckner was magnificent, stealing in from nowhere at the opening, yet suspenseful, Chris Parkes delivering a superb horn solo, leading-off a performance that was gloriously expansive yet inexorable in its direction, Masur and the Philharmonia finding the music’s powerful outreaches (depsite reticent timpani) as well as its inner sanctum, the latter signalled with some breathtaking pianissimos. The slow movement in the form of a nocturnal march was rapt and glowing; and the finale’s pastoral romping and solemn pronouncements were a well-balanced journeying to the awe-struck coda, which confirmed Masur and the Philharmonia Orchestra’s devotion to the music and to each other.

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