Vienna Philharmonic – 1

Symphony No.103 in E flat (Drumroll)
Wozzeck – Three Fragments
The Rite of Spring

Katarina Dalayman (soprano)

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 7 September, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The Vienna Philharmonic is a wonderful ambassador for its musical heritage – and here Haydn and Berg were treated as absolute equals and played with total identification and commitment.

How natural were the rhythms of Haydn’s ‘Drum Roll’ symphony (although its eponymous feature was hardly arresting, a tepid crescendodiminuendo, the timpani throughout being too comfortable and soft-toned), but, overall, this was an agreeable, civilised performance with much attention paid to inner parts. Tempos were measured and equable across the whole, the finale being especially moderate and a distinct plus in musical shaping. The Minuet was robust and the Trio expressively turned. There were moments when Haydn seemed to be anticipating Schubert, although the café-style use of solo strings towards the end of the Andante found the leader (Werner Hink?) a little pressed and not always in tune; nor was he in the solo spot of the first encore, Johann Strauss II’s Wiener Blut waltz, given a full-scale if brisk account.

After Haydn, Berg, his ‘trailer’ for the opera “Wozzeck” for which Zubin Mehta’s ear for detail and clarity of balance worked a treat, albeit it was just a tad too ‘neat’ at times; the VPO, whether in the military-band music or in more impressionistic scenes, played with genuine appreciation. Katarina Dalayman was outstanding in conveying Marie’s different moods.

What was less edifying, though, was the audience and BBCTV’s intrusion – the latter insists on adorning the organ console in various colours; here we had three ghastly ones. Surely one such monstrosity is enough? Zubin Mehta doesn’t hang around, so he launched the symphony movements and the ‘Fragments’ to a barrage of hubbub and coughing. The latter suggested that many of the audience should be in hospital and that some think coughing is mandatory! And what to say about the person who couldn’t wait to applaud at the end of the Berg, despite Mehta’s arms being aloft to maintain silence…

The Rite fell between stools. The Vienna Philharmonic usually seems slightly wary of Stravinsky, and was so here in a performance well-drilled but susceptible, not savage enough, and uncertain as to whether the ballet score is now an orchestral showpiece or can still be played as a theatrical work. Mehta’s textbook conducting kept the show on the road without digging too deeply into the music’s potential, although his variance of dynamics was laudable, not least the ultra-pianissimo muted trumpets at the beginning of ‘Part 2’.

“Back to Vienna” said Mehta as the encore waltz-measures started up, the VPO returning to its glorious ways and then signing-off with the Thunder and Lightning Polka, although judging from the lack of activity in the Radio 3 booth this latter seemed denied to the airwaves. Surely listeners should get the whole concert, too?

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