VPO/Ozawa Concert – 30th November

The Barber of Seville – Overture
Jeu de cartes
Symphony No.7 in D minor

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 November, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Peter Serkin’s last-minute non-appearance – or, more accurately, the announcement of it – was a great disappointment. This would have been a rare London appearance for Serkin, and intriguing to have heard him in Brahms’s mighty D minor concerto as a gap-filler to the Bach and contemporary music that he’s more familiar in.

The Rossini and Stravinsky substitutions (being played elsewhere by the VPO) made excellent bedfellows – Stravinsky not so much quotes than distortedly refers to a snatch of the Rossini towards the end of his ballet. The overture was somewhat unvaried – hard-sounding and unrelenting. In a similar vein was the first tableau of Jeu de cartes, mechanical and brusque; the opening music, signalling the first ‘deal’, was portentously delivered, as it would be on its two returns. Bit-by-bit the VPO and Ozawa warmed to its Stavinskian task with the rendition taking on wit and flexibility to reveal the sarcasm, syncopation and music-hall ditties of the second part; vivid instrumental projection spilled the final section towards its denouement.

Ozawa had a great success with Dvorak 7. He didn’t make the fatal mistake of thinking this a symphony by Brahms, and the VPO found its true self, an innate response to Dvorak’s Slavonic rhythms. Ozawa’s was a spacious reading, one sensitive to the music’s intimacies, and a powerful one, fully producing the dark aspects of this very personal music. Melancholy and determination are threaded through this symphony; Ozawa added dramatic emphasis without distorting the shape while contrasting the slenderest of tones and the most heartfelt expression with richly-moulded articulation and plenty of muscle and climactic fibre. No thick textures either; Ozawa’s transparent balancing and the VPO’s superfine textures never threatened to subjugate this music to spurious Germanic heaviness. It was Dvorak’s individuality that shone through, his nationalistic Czech pride, his sadness and his strength.

Ozawa’s novel attacca from the ‘Poco adagio’ to the scherzo suggested two sides of a troubled soul – intimate and tender in the former, its reticent anguish transmuting into an insistent and tormented waltz, the ‘trio’ a radiant, flowing contrast. This ravishingly played, collectively eloquent performance climbed to the resolute coda, Ozawa underlining the symphony’s tragedy; the final bars are not an easy victory – anything but. This was an interpretation of imagination and integrity shot through with just enough intensity to sustain the symphony’s wide range of emotions.

For those that paid top-dollar for tickets, the revised programme equated to about £1.00 per minute of music. There was a rebate though in the form of Strauss Family encores – Johann II’s Op.354, Wiener Blut (Waltz) and Josef’s Op.245, Plappermaulchen (Polka schnell). Ozawa’s obvious affection for this wonderful repertoire, his lingering phrasing in the waltz, all repeats observed, and the high spirits of the polka augur well for the 2002 New Year’s Day Concert, which Ozawa conducts for the first time, a notable event usually rush-released on CD; so too for Ozawa – PHILIPS 468 999-2 should you want to order now!

  • The Vienna Philharmonic return to the RFH on 11 April with Lorin Maazel – Bach, Mozart and Mendelssohn
  • Box Office: 020 7960 4242 www.rfh.org.uk

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