Prom 59: Paavo Järvi, Augustin Hadelich & Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich – Beethoven, Tchaikovsky & Dvořák

Ludwig van Beethoven
Overture ‘The Consecration of the House, Op.124

Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35

Antonín Dvořák
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Augustin Hadelich

Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich

Paavo Järvi

Reviewed by: Ateş Orga

Reviewed: 30 August, 2023
Venue: Royal Albert Hall

Welcome ‘old-fashioned’ programming – overture, concerto, symphony. Super-league conductor. A-class Central-European orchestra. Poet-virtuoso soloist. Sell-out house, five-thousand plus, cheering, roaring and stamping.

To open, Beethoven’s Handelian late concert overture The Consecration of the House, introduced to the Proms by Henry Wood in 1896, Paavo Järvi sculpted a grand processional opening, hard-stick drums, glittering woodwind, noble brass, richly grained strings (antiphonal violins, double basses left of stage), sharp attack and keenly terraced, hairpin dynamics setting the tone for the evening to come. The culminating fugue was lithe and urgent, the musical argument, responses and phrased shifts of timbre brilliantly commanded, the Tonhalle-Orchester players on the edge of their seats, at one with their music director. Corporate playing of impeccable fire and urgency, soaring the moment, glorying in full-throated C-major resonance.

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto comes and goes in one’s affections. Augustin Hadelich’s approach, enhanced by outstandingly detailed, ‘listening’ orchestral support, Järvi’s master-hand eloquently at the helm, sent it stratospheric. Mahogany-toned, never coarse, his 1744 ‘Leduc, ex Szeryng’ Guarneri del Gesù instrument spoke all the way from maiden to hero, Ural bard to Caucasian dancer, ringing out across the auditorium. The personality and temperament, the sheer elation, took me back to past greats, every gesture charged and nuanced with fresh insights and underlinings. A thrilling journey. For encore, Hadelich’s arrangement of ‘Howdy’ Forrester’s Appalachian-tuned ‘Wild Fiddler’s Rag’, pulsed and bent beneath a blue moon.

Dressing old favourites anew, brushing away cobwebs, was the heartbeat of this concert. Nothing was ordinary or routine. Järvi spelt it out in the programme book. “With a [familiar, well-known] piece like the ‘New World’ Symphony, you have to take a very strong personal point of view. Nobody’s interested in an average performance, or a good copy of another performance. The only reason to perform a piece like this is to bring something that’s yours to the music – but, that said, you should never impose anything artificial … Doing something differently for the sake of it is just a gimmick, and that’s simply not interesting. I remember when I was a student in America, I saw Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting the piece, and my jaw just dropped … everything was different: it was singing and dancing, and there were nuances I’d never heard before.”

I first experienced the ‘New World’ in 1959. Malcolm Sargent, LPO, Royal Albert Hall pre ‘flying saucer’ acoustic. Stirring somewhere within those nostalgic ghosts of gone-by days, aweing and silencing the room, Järvi’s magnificent reading floored me. This was a golden account of the daring-to-risk variety, the stakes high. From first crack of the drums to a phenomenal Largo of hyperbole-prompting dynamics at the quietest end of the spectrum, cor anglais (Simon Fuchs) and strings, the orchestra, breathing as one … from a precision attack Scherzo, hard-sticked timpani again to the fore (Klaus Schwärzler), meticulous rhythms, the Tonhalle’s celebrated woodwind choir in rustic Bohemian cry, to an epic Finale, the heavy brass in forged, spine-tingling unanimity, the string accents gruffly edged … this was an elevated ‘New World’ penetratingly re-examined from the page. Järvi’s discreet rubatos and commas, his trademark control of tempo and time changes, the cultured way he welds and cadences structure – globally and internally – lifted events to a quite extraordinary degree. The stuff of memory. For encore, showcasing the strings, Hugo Alfven’s Shepherd Girls’ Dance from his 1923 ballet-pantomime The Mountain King – Estonian Festival Orchestra territory, stunningly coordinated, Andreas Janke leading.

Regretful that the occasion was not televised, out to Kensington Gore, crowds streaming away, the Victorian rotunda and lamps of the Hall behind us, the Albert Memorial before, unpeopled, lit to the stars. The 52 and 390 to King’s Cross. The Cambridge train to fields and silence beyond. My Proms are over for another year.

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