Beethoven at the Barbican Hall
Symphony numbers 2 and 3 (Eroica)
Triple Concerto in C major for piano, violin and cello
Symphony number 6 (Pastoral)
Gordon Nikolitch (violin), Tim Hugh ('cello), Lars Vogt (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink
22nd and 27th November 2005
It comes as something of a surprise to realise that it is 21 years since the LSO undertook a Beethoven Cycle and possibly more so that Bernard Haitink has never recorded the symphonies as a cycle.
To make up for both, the orchestra has launched a substantial series at the Barbican Hall which, over the next eight months, will feature virtually all of Beethoven's major output and will record most if not all of the concerts. This latter fact was probably the cause of the conductor's irritation on 22 November with the number of uncovered coughs during the opening movement of the Second Symphony. Given the high level of concentration on stage and the quality of performance this was all the more annoying.
Haitink's approach is on the fast side throughout, with little sense of romantic meditation which some conductor's try to elicit. The bonus is the joy he brings to the music and the bite he gets from his players. Individual lines have a steely precision but never seem merely technical. This was particularly clear in the final movement of the Second Symphony which galloped through without a hair out of place.
After the interval a larger force assembled for the Eroica. Excitement bubbled throughout and the horns were on splendid, and highly lyrical, form. Woodwind solos were keenly etched and the string playing responded with sensitivity to the conductor's moulding of line and dynamic.
Hopefully the recording, when it comes out, will do the evening justice. Thankfully this is only the start and details of the other concerts in the series can be found at www.lso.co.uk.
The Barbican's Beethoven cycle concluded with a flourish on Sunday night. Uniting Beethoven's Triple Concerto in C major with his Symphony no. 6, the programme was concise yet promising. As ever, the location leant just the right air to the occasion; along with an enthusiastic and appreciative audience the atmosphere was ripe for a great evening's entertainment. And it didn't disappoint.
The Triple Concerto in was brilliantly performed both by orchestra and soloists. The clever use of dynamics by the orchestra in the 1st, albeit slightly repetitious, movement set the standard early on, and the orchestral playing throughout remained subtle but impressive. Moreover, the three soloists gave their all to the music, with delightful results. Gordon Nikolitch (violin), Tim Hugh ('cello) and Lars Vogt (piano) truly 'lived' their parts, and played with such passion as to capture the audience completely. The 2nd movement, with its wistful melodies and lilting accompaniment, allowed the passion and feeling full rein, whilst the earthier and almost Eastern European 3rd movement swept the piece irresistibly towards its close.
The soloists together displayed an amazing rapport, obviously enjoyed their playing (with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm in places!) and each also played to the strengths both of the instruments and of themselves. For a piece of music never given the accolades of many other Beethoven works, this performance should have gone some way towards rectifying the perceptions with which it is viewed. The prolonged applause that greeted the final notes testifies to that.
Then it was on to the Pastoral Symphony, and a performance that left little to be criticised except the fact that it had to end. Each section and sub-section of the orchestra distinguished itself, for example the powerful brass in the 1st movement, the woodwind section making such an impact in the 3rd movement, and the beautiful viola melody singing out beneath the running violin scales in the 5th movement.
The 6th Symphony was performed with such an air of ease that you just had to give yourself up completely to the enjoyment of listening; it was played simply yet with a degree of skill that allowed the true complexities of the piece to shine through. There was the odd squeak, and a slight lag over the tempo and time change between the 3rd and 4th movements, but these were very minor spots on the performance. And the appreciation felt by the audience was obvious, whether in the complete lack of movement whilst music was being played, or in the applause at the end. They were captivated, right until the last chords.
The London Symphony Orchestra provided an evening of top-class music, admirably led by their unobtrusive but powerful conductor, Bernard Haitink. The sooner Beethoven's music is heard echoing around the Barbican again, the better.
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