Daniele Gatti continued his highly
praised Beethoven Cycle with an invigorating account of Beethoven’s
Second Symphony, making it sound closer to the radicalism of
the ‘Eroica’ rather than a typically eighteenth century work recalling
Haydn or Mozart.
Gatti judged the opening Adagio
molto perfectly, keeping the line taut and never, as is often the
case, allowing the music to drag. With the Allegro con brio,
Gatti elicited angular and jagged rhythms, getting wonderfully crisp
and weighty string playing from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. With
the Larghetto, the RPO strings took on a darker tone, producing
a deeply felt sense of melancholia, while the Scherzo was conducted
in a sprightly manner, with Gatti emphasising the spirited, buoyant
rhythms. He made the Allegro molto really catch fire, the strings
in particular playing with a thrusting urgency bringing the symphony
to an exhilarating conclusion. My main problem with this ‘symphony for
strings’ performance was that the recessed brass, woodwind and timpani
were pallid and lacking in focus and impact.
The highlight of the evening proved
to be Freddy Kempf’s mesmeric performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano
Concerto. What was so refreshing about Kempf’s reading was its bold
directness and sense of urgency: nothing seemed contrived, mannered
or over rehearsed. Kempf’s penchant for taking risks really paid off,
making Beethoven sound ‘contemporary’ rather than a museum composer,
especially in the cadenza where the pianist was in his element. Here
he projected a wonderful sense of danger, making the music sound so
fresh and extempore, not so much walking a tightrope as dancing along
In the brief Andante Kempf
maintained a stern and steely serenity, giving this music much more
weight than one normally hears, complemented by the RPO ‘cello’s and
double basses playing with an appropriate weight and darkness of tone.
With the closing Rondo Vivace, Kempf switched into a lighter
and nimble-fingered approach, making the music appear angelic and witty.
The audience gave Kempf a well-deserved ovation, which he coyly sought
to deflect by pointing towards his conductor as if to share his triumph.
Throughout this virtuoso performance
Gatti gave sensitive support and secured some deeply expressive string
playing from the RPO: sadly, however, yet again the woodwind, brass
and timpani lacked real, definable presence.
After recently praising Gatti’s
Symphony, I was eagerly anticipating much of the same dynamism and vigour
in his reading of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: however, I was doomed
to be disappointed.
From beginning to end Gatti’s
reading of Beethoven’s arguably most popular symphony was a travesty.
This was a run-through performance, crudely conducted and loudly bashed
out. The famous opening of the Allegro con brio went for nothing,
having zero impact, while the movement as a whole had no sense of tension
or drama and merely fell flat: the timpani and horns – so important
here - simply sounded effete while the woodwind were vapid.
The Andante con moto was
missing breadth and grandeur, with the conductor failing to maintain
a sense of an unfolding line; his tempi were all over the place, which
merely fragmented the music. In this movement (and, indeed, throughout
this concert) Gatti developed a curious and affected habit of lowering
his hands to his sides, letting his players do their own thing before
Whilst in the opening Allegro
the scurrying ‘cellos had great attack, the transition between the Allegro
vivace and the Allegro – linked by badly played timpani taps
- was misjudged, obliterating the sense of a build-up and explosion
of tension. As Gatti rushed headlong towards the closing passages much
important woodwind detail was either smudged or entirely submerged by
the rest of the orchestra which became louder and louder, aided and
abetted by some very course trombone playing. The closing bars were
reduced to a congested noise that had this reviewer fleeing his seat
as soon as the predictably noisy applause started.
This was one of the worst performances
of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony I have heard in concert – and the loudest.
After some very fine playing in the first half of the evening, this
lapse was as hard to understand as to forgive.