THE TIMES OF LONDON|
December 3, 2002
by John Allison
It is not often these days in London that you hear such an old-fashioned concert as this. Not only was it shaped in the traditional overture-concerto-symphony format, it was devoted entirely to core Austro-German repertoire. But it worked well, more than well, in fact, thanks to an outstanding soloist in the violinist Leonidas Kavakos and authoritative, uncommonly energised conducting from Kurt Masur.
Indeed, the London Philharmonic played throughout with high morale: Serge Dorny, the outgoing chief executive and artistic director, leaves it on good form as he is succeeded by the Australian Timothy Walker, an appointment announced last week.
Weber's overture to Oberon was the starting point here, and if the delicate opening took a few moments to settle down, the LPO was soon playing with brio and brilliance. The big tune was delivered with loving warmth, and the orchestra attacked everything else with punch, making for a strong body of sound.
What could be more predictable than following this with Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor? Yet there was nothing predictable about a performance that took a fresh look at this popular masterpiece. Kavakos set to work immediately with sweet, serene sound: his technical perfection allowed him to make it all sound effortless, but he took nothing in the music for granted.
With an alert, muscular orchestra behind him, this could have been a straightforward run through the piece, but everyone took care over the dreamy contrasts, revealing a range of emotion that is often overlooked. The andante never dragged, and the violin sang out seamlessly and with sweet melancholy as the movement uncoiled. Vitality was restored in the crisp, dancing finale.
The LPO has a good record with Mahler: you don't have to be old to remember Klaus Tennstedt's performances. But this account of the First Symphony will also linger in the memory. Inspired partly by the composer's scandalous affair with the wife of Weber's grandson, it is nevertheless a positive work, free of the neuroses that haunt his later music, and Masur caught all the dewy freshness in a radiant first movement. He unfolded this nature-inspired music in masterly fashion, and delivered the eventual explosion in brilliant colour.
The swaying country dance in the second movement sounded wonderfully tipsy, and the funereal reworking of the nursery tune flowed fast enough for the orchestra to sound like a wheezy accordion.
Tension dipped slightly in the finale, but the final apotheosis found the entire orchestra blazing away.