It is always a surprise to see the conducting style
of Roger Norrington. He often indulges in those broad circular
gestures that they tell you not to use in conducting school. As one
of the originators of the "historically informed" school of conductors,
with an emphasis on a precise beat, he should be the last one to use
a tool that does not guarantee precision. Fortunately the London Philharmonic
is skilled enough to provide all the precision he requires, no matter
what signals are given. The exception this evening being, oddly, the
brass section, which, throughout the concert had its own concept of
rhythmical pulse and even intonation which was often at variance with
that held by Sir Roger.
It was otherwise a splendid evening of the last two
symphonies of Bonn's most famous favorite son. Norrington's precision,
attention to detail and, in the symphony in F, wit were all in evidence.
His tempo in the final movement of the Eighth, comprising the first
part of the program, left some members of the orchestra scrambling a
bit. There was also a curious tempo used in the "military band" section
of the final movement of the Ninth - I couldn't help imagining soldiers
trying to march to that one. Quibbles aside, it was Beethoven played
with force and directness and makes a strong argument that stripping
away all the layers of "interpretation" - like layers of paint on old
woodwork - can cause the listener to see the work afresh.
For the Choral Symphony, the well-rehearsed Choir of
Radio France joined the orchestra, and sang with strength and impressive
accuracy. The soloists were soprano Christine Brewer, mezzo Carolin
Masur, tenor Stuart Neill and bass Matti Salminen.
Salminen, the veteran of this otherwise fine group, was the standout
and contributed stirring moments to the finale.
The Théàtre du Châtelet was a rubato,
retardando, and legato-free zone this night. Some in the audience might
miss the customary shaping of phrases in their recordings of these symphonies
by Bruno Walter or Furtwängler. Some might find the "Freude, schöner
Götterfunken" with a bit of a tick-tock cadence. I can still remember
the shock - there is no other word for it - when first hearing the Norrington
Ninth recording many years ago. It seemed "sanitised" almost beyond
recognition, lifeless and metronomic. Now I find much to like in the
clear musicality of Norrington and always look forward to the insight,
details and, yes, pleasure he always delivers. Maybe the conductor has
changed. Maybe I have.