Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Janusz Piotrowicz: Beethoven Symphony Cycle – 2

Beethoven
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Janusz Piotrowicz


Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 19 April, 2007
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Another Beethoven symphony-cycle in London: the disappointing attendance at this concert suggested such events are tiring the London concert-goer. (Cadogan Hall also has a competing Beethoven cycle from Stephen Kovacevich and the London Mozart Players: Symphony No.5 on 26 April.) Like Kurt Masur’s Royal Festival Hall Beethoven series a couple of years ago, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, these Royal Philharmonic concerts are being presented in numerical order. This second one would have benefited from the inclusion of the overture to (von Collin’s) “Coriolan”, written at about the same time as the Fourth Symphony, as an appropriate starter.

The performances of these symphonies that Janusz Piotrowicz conducted fell into ‘no man’s land’ in terms of quality – neither good enough nor particularly bad. The Fourth Symphony’s opening movement seemed to be going in the right direction but, ultimately, it needed much more variety and drama to sustain it, a criticism that could be levelled elsewhere. Piotrowicz would often clench his fist and demand more attack, but the response from the orchestra was not total, although the timpanist produced some striking sounds. The slow movement of the Fourth was given a pedestrian account. In the trio of the scherzo the woodwinds provided much-needed life. The finale failed to excite, and there were a few occasions when the violins could not be heard.

The opening of the Fifth Symphony was marred by ragged ensemble; and, overall, there was a lack of clarity. It’s not such a good idea to have the violas positioned outside-right when the use of antiphonal violins is much more pertinent. The woodwinds sustained their fine form in the conversational episodes of the Andante but, later on, a more lyrical approach would have been welcome: the climax of this movement seemed out of place. The pizzicatos linking the third movement to the fourth were not tight enough and the crescendo that launched the final movement was rushed. Fortunately, this initial momentum carried the finale onwards and when calmer measures were reached one felt suitably out of breath – in an invigorating way. In this closing movement there was greater precision to both the playing and in clarity of detail. The symphony’s final chords were satisfyingly resounding.

Overall, though, the concert left one feeling indifferent.

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