Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15
Emanuel Ax (piano)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 19 August, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
The Prom had started with Brahms’s Third Symphony. Haitink saw no reason to inflate the COE’s string size (here of forty personnel), but he does appreciate the importance in this music of antiphonal violins, the orchestra overall equating more or less (more in fact) to early performances of Brahms’s music at Meiningen; and, anyway, the COE is well-versed in revelatory Brahms thanks to Paavo Berglund’s great Ondine recording of the symphonies that is a model of transparent textures and the best sort of ‘insider dealing’; Brahms no longer portrayed as bearded and portly. It was similar with Haitink; winds and strings in contrapuntal equality, the contrabassoon a distinct presence. The first movement, arguably too docile, autumn coming early, although gathering strength with the exposition repeat, was nevertheless lofty and with exemplary dynamic contrasts. The finale had more purpose and, following the ‘storm and stress’ climax, it was wound-down with passion-spent satisfaction. Best of all were the middle movements; without the suggestion of being micro-managed (Haitink’s is the art that conceals art), they were expressively flowing, poised and subtly shaded; most remarkably a through-line was maintained while remaining faithful to episodes and their contrasts, exquisitely turned.
This first of a pair of Ax/COE/Haitink Proms embracing Brahms’s two piano concertos (BBC Radio 3’s oft-heard trailer suggested he wrote more than this!) and two of his symphonies makes the day-following concert mandatory. The Symphony is No.4.