Weber Overture, Oberon
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor
Mahler Symphony 1 in D
This concert got off to a slightly shaky start, with
a late comer halting the proceedings, receiving a glare from conductor.
This was followed by bad horn intonation and a chorus of coughers at
the opening of Weber’s Oberon Overture. Things soon improved once Masur
got into gear, encouraging the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play
with great style and swagger, making the music dance; an exhilarating
performance perfectly paced and played.
Mendelssohn’s evergreen Violin Concerto was beautifully
played and imaginatively interpreted by Athens born Leonidas Kavakos
playing on his 1692 Stradivarius – the ‘Falmouth’. This warhorse is
played too often in a routine, mechanical way but under Kavakos one
was gripped by his delicate and reserved, but highly charged and intense,
way of playing. In the Allegro molto appasionato the soloist
produced nerve-shattering, sharp-cutting sounds that this reviewer has
never heard in this work before. Yet what made his playing so uniquely
special was its refinement of tone and profound sensitivity totally
devoid of the sensational.
In the Andante he took on a different more reserved
mood and tone, both mellow and sombre, which was deeply moving, especially
the closing passage which was exquisitely phrased as it just dissolved
away. The Allegretto non tropo – Allegro molto vivace lifted
the spirits with jovial and sparkling acrobatics from the violin so
airy and light with equally witty playing from the LPO. Masur’s accompaniment
was exemplary and succeeded in getting the Mendelssohn sound to perfection.
Kavakos is billed in the programme as "one of today’s most sought
after virtuoso violinists" and judging by his performance one
can see why: he is an artist of true genius. For an encore, curiously
the soloist chose ‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra’ by Francisco Tárrega
(1852- 1909); this was transposed from classical guitar to violin, and
seemed interminable and monotonous. The piece obviously suffered from
transposition, and needs the richer sound of the acoustic guitar to
make an impact and sound more ‘Spanish’. However, Kavakos played the
work with great skill.
Masur was in his element in the evening’s major offering,
Mahler’s 1st Symphony. In the first movement - Langsam,
schleppend. Wie ein Naturlaut - Masur had an iron grip over structure
and dynamics; the opening murmurings of nature were subdued and perfectly
measured. What made this movement so typical of the Mahler-sound were
the pronounced woodwind bird calls which had a piercing quality which
almost sounded kitsch. The distant fanfares (perfectly played off stage)
had an eerie effect adding extra tension. With the awakening of nature,
Masur slowly built up the tension and drama ending with a great flourish
of horns and incisive timpani.
The second movement Kraftig bewegt, doch nicht zu
schnell – had the LPO playing with great verve and lilt with gutsy,
swirling violins and deep throbbing ‘cellos and double basses. Masur
himself seemed to dance as he conducted this scherzo, which is a pastiche
of a bucolic peasant waltz. The opening of the funeral march - Feierlich
und emessen, ohne zu schleppen - for solo double-bass and timpani
had a sinister simplicity that gave a dark edge to the folk song ‘Frere
Jacques’. Masur brought out the crudity and grotesque element of the
peasant band music, aptly making it sound hackneyed and brash.
The finale - Sturmisch bewegt - opened
with a firework display of stormy sounds, beautifully controlled and
delivered with percussion and brass on top form; often this last movement
can sound just noisy, fractious, heavy and hysterical. What was especially
moving after the noisier outbursts was the yearning string theme which
Masur conducted with great passion, but without ever resorting to crude
Tennstedt-like mannerisms, blatantly milking the emotions.
Having the horns standing up for the closing passages
seemed somewhat of an unnecessary theatrical gesture, more suited to
the Benny Goodman rather then the London Philharmonic Orchestra. However,
the symphony came to a close with the whole orchestra catching fire
in a magnificent crescendo, and Masur and the LPO were rewarded with
a well-deserved standing ovation.