Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)
Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)
Joan Rodgers (soprano)
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano)
Andrew Kennedy (tenor)
David Wilson-Johnson (baritone)
London Symphony Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 18 March, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
If the somewhat misleading entry in the Southbank Centre’s diary for March – “Daniele Gatti’s Final London Concert” – played any part in drawing a sell-out Royal Festival Hall (with a queue for returns) then it was a neat marketing trick. Certainly this was Gatti’s final concert (anywhere) as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director (he is succeeded by Charles Dutoit as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor) but he will return as Conductor Laureate and also most likely leading his ‘new’ ensemble, Orchestre National de France.
Of course the choice of repertoire will have helped determine the full house, the second of two focussing on ‘last symphonies’ (it was Mahler 9, his last completed work, back in January). Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony was given a generally relaxed and comfortable reading, the first movement (the violins a little uncertain in the ‘first go’ at the exposition) unforced in its jubilation. Particularly beguiling was the Andante cantabile, tenderly declared and deeply expressive, the relaxed Minuet (with a touch of pomp) the perfect foil. The finale fizzed along while maintaining poise and clarity, but Gatti’s decision to not repeat the movement’s second half (having taken every other marked repetition) was ruinous structurally and lost us one of the great ‘returns’ in symphonic music.
There’s another very important repeat, in Beethoven 9, the second one in the scherzo; this Gatti did observe as part of a particularly fleet traversal (excellent timpani-playing from Matt Perry, who can hand-stop notes without creating further sound), the trio just a little hasty if very nimbly articulated. The first movement had begun auspiciously, colour, blend and balance coming-together to provide an atmosphere that suggested great things to come. If a little clipped at times, and not apocalyptic enough at the climax, the opening movement managed to be both determined and mysterious.
In a performance that seemed not to have caught up with (or ignored) the latest editions (plural!) of Beethoven’s symphonies, Gatti found both meditation and organic tempo contrasts in the slow movement (Andrew Fletcher providing a particularly fine horn solo) before launching into an exhilarating finale. The first appearance of the ‘Ode to Joy’ melody was made particularly arresting, slithering in the undergrowth with non-vibrato cellos and double basses. With the return of ‘chaos’, David Wilson-Johnson’s commanding call for a change of direction filled the Hall with decisive tones, the vocal quartet (placed between orchestra and choir and effecting excellent balance) particularly fine, the performance taking wing through its episodes and culminating thrillingly, the 150-strong London Symphony Chorus giving its collective all. Daniele Gatti could not have had a better send off.
Enter the Royal Philharmonic’s Charles Dutoit era – there’s a mostly Prokofiev concert on 27 April with Martha Argerich.