Philharmonia Orchestra/Paavo Järvi – Haydn’s Clock Symphony & Nielsen’s Sinfonia semplice – Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with Christian Tetzlaff, Tanja Tetzlaff & Lars Vogt

Symphony No.101 in D (Clock)
Concerto in C for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op.56
Symphony No.6, FS116 (Sinfonia semplice)

Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Tanja Tetzlaff (cello) & Lars Vogt (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Paavo Järvi

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: 2 February, 2017
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Paavo JärviPhotograph: Julia BayerUsing a slightly reduced orchestra with ‘period’ trumpets and timpani, Paavo Järvi’s reading of Haydn’s ‘Clock’ Symphony was a fine example of how a modern orchestra can present 18th-century music convincingly. The generally swift tempos were ideal in the context of this interpretation and the dashing first movement (the main section is marked Presto) was particularly vivid; strongly pointed with the occasional brief crescendo adding force to the more-significant chords, attention was held throughout. There were personal touches within the short repeats of the second and final movements and that of the Trio played more softly, but this never impeded the music. The Andante which is the basis of the work’s title was accented to delightful effect. It is legitimate to perform the long Minuet rather faster than the required Allegretto, though the quaint fading of tone at the end of the first phrase each time it appeared was something of a surprise. There was superb string-playing in the Finale; the demanding fugal section, both quiet and rapid here, was immaculate. The timpani, also in the Beethoven, were placed behind the violas, but this did not prevent Antoine Siguré from being suitably powerful at dramatic moments; this was imaginative playing.

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto was given a lyrical outing within Järvi’s symphonic approach. There was none of the all-too-common relaxation at the arrival of calmer melodies, but the elegant way in which the soloists yielded to one another as each in turn repeated or decorated the themes showed great rapport. The cello is generally the first to expound the opening ideas and Beethoven develops them in different ways – the first movement in Sinfonia concertante style but in the central Largo Tanja Tetzlaff announced the tune with utmost gentility before Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt expanded it in their different ways. The subtle entry of the Finale alla polacca has another subtle difference, each solo instrument commenting on the theme rather than varying it.

Christian TetzlaffPhotograph: Giorgia BertazziThis was the final concert in Paavo Järvi’s series incorporating Carl Nielsen’s Six Symphonies. The first publication of No.6 did not give the title ‘Sinfonia semplice’, but this is how the composer referred to it.

Clearly there is nothing ‘simple’ about it and after beginning with a gentle phrase there comes an interesting idea notable for its slightly broken rhythm. Many diverse elements combine to make up this first movement and Järvi sustained a firm pulse. The Philharmonia achieved exciting dynamic contrasts and there was much lyricism – especially when the opening phase was expanded nobly by the horns. In the anguished penultimate section the immensely powerful brass section was superb. The subsequent ‘Humoresque’ is a true scherzo although the joke is somewhat bitter. The weird, disjunctive combination of woodwinds and percussion with the occasional yawning glissando from trombone was given with great precision – the effect is disturbing. The questioning string-based Adagio that follows is also of little relief.

The Finale sets many moods in juxtaposition, announced by bassoon, played expressively by Robin O’Neill. What follows varies from the aggressive to the charming. Contrast of mood is at its height when we reach a winsome waltz for strings interrupted more and more forcefully by cross-rhythms from the rest of the orchestra until brass hammers home a caricature of the dance using unrelated rhythm and tempo, and the exactness with which these wild phrases were performed was extraordinary. Only at the end is the listener offered comfort; the music subsides and under a final flourish we hear the underpinning weight of the bassoon which is left exposed. This was one of the finest Nielsen performances of Järvi’s admirable series.

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