Philadelphia Orchestra/Eschenbach (2)

Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Philadelphia Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 4 September, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The Proms back into full stride after the previous night’s cancellation meant that the Philadelphia Orchestra (booked for two concerts) was able to contribute to this season – with two fifth symphonies of triumphant trajectory.

There was no doubting the finish and virtuosity of the orchestra (including a superb woodwind section) or that Christoph Eschenbach brought directness to both works. The Beethoven though, for all the concentration that satisfied structure (the integration of the opening famous four-note motif, for example), didn’t quite expand enough at times – although the lack of pomp in the finale was refreshing – or was sounded with enough rough-hewn power. Across the four movements there was little differentiation of timbre to really establish the dark-to-light journey, and for all the clarity of detail and the dynamic variety, there was a pristine quality that restricted the music’s elemental processes. Dividends came in the Andante con moto second movement, which was enticingly shaped without falling into sentimentality, and in the transition from scherzo to finale, which hung in the air atmospherically and with ethereal pianissimo.

Tchaikovsky’s Fifth was altogether glorious and responded well to such refined music-making, Eschenbach finding no need (unlike some colleagues) to pull tempo about or sectionalise subjects. The soul of the music was revealed through respect for Tchaikovsky’s own musical craft, and if the trombones were sometimes hectoring and snarling (probably deliberate given the ‘threatening’ points during the horn-led Andante cantabile that such demonstration occurred), there was an unity, as well as a shape and a sway – intensified by unwritten but effective attaccas between movements – that sounded fresh-minted and was certainly revealing of Tchaikovsky’s genius.

As an encore, the ‘Dance of the Comedians’ from Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride” was given with precision, scintillation and easeful relish.

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