RPO/Gatti Beethoven Cycle – Part 4 (13 May)

Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67

Freddy Kempf (piano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Daniele Gatti

Reviewed by: Diarmuid Dunne

Reviewed: 13 May, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

The Second Symphony began in wonderfully upbeat mood. As in the First Symphony, Daniele Gatti seems very much at home with early Beethoven. The RPO’s strings were especially convincing and the entire first movement was filled with cheerful exuberance (in fact one could almost forgive the applause!). The ’Larghetto’ strolled lyrically and built gently, the Scherzo was full wit and deft interplay and the joyful optimism of the final movement couldn’t have failed to bring a smile to even the most determinedly miserable.

Last time I heard Freddy Kempf in this series, he was erratic in Beethoven’s Second Concerto; his impetuous turns of speed and pointed accents seeming at odds with the music. But what was a little on the raw side then seemed to have been refined for the Fourth Concerto. He produced a more controlled display of virtuosity. The first movement had some superbly exciting moments – Kempf really does have the most delightful lazy, jazzy way of changing mood in the middle of some fiercely difficult passages. The cadenza was a little rough, but it was quickly forgotten thanks to some sublime pianissimos in the second movement. The RPO was especially sensitive and, once again, sounded very well prepared. The best, however, was saved until last. The third movement produced a glittering display. Kempf’s capricious, elfin touch was enchanting and his virtuosity effortless. He played as though released from conscious constraints and propelled to the conclusion by an inner musical line. The subsequent ovation was well deserved.

Freddy Kempf was wonderful on this occasion. I get the impression he’s an improviser, dedicated to free association of ideas. Whilst it’s a risky approach, on the right day it can be electrifying.

The Fifth Symphony began well, with Gatti drawing a potent sense of gravitas from the dramatic, portentous first movement. From then on, however, it suffered from some of the same qualities that left me unmoved with the performance of the Eroica. The ’Andante con moto’ was brisk and upbeat, but apart from a little dubious woodwind tuning, it still worked. Just. The quick pace for the Scherzo, however, robbed it of its mysterious, eerie qualities. Despite some fine playing by the RPO, Gatti was again beginning to make the music sound too theatrical. This was even more evident in the final ’Allegro’, which was both joyful and triumphant, but lacked the kind of gut-wrenching profundity that should roar from this piece to grip the spirit and galvanise the will.

Gatti seems to be a fine interpreter of early Beethoven, with its uplifting, carefree spirit. I’m not totally convinced by his approach to the later works. There’s something of the opera about them, a sort of Barber of Seville quality that is entertaining but ultimately not very moving. No one could doubt Gatti’s integrity, though, and the exacting performances he brings from the RPO.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content