Both the classical CD catalogue and concert hall programmes
are replete with Beethoven symphony cycles, so one tends to greet yet
another one with a mixture of apprehension and resignation, wearily
However, Daniele Gatti and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra gave readings
of Beethoven that were both invigorating and awe-inspiring; this was
not just another run through of Beethoven’s over played scores. Gatti
stated in an interview in the programme notes "In the light
of the new critical edition of the symphonies, edited by Jonathan Del
Mar, it has become especially important to reconsider the metronome
marks, phrasing, articulation and so on, and to look again at how much
the way Beethoven is played is simply the result of tradition. Our approach
is to bring, if you like, the best of both worlds." As a result
Gatti’s Beethoven is authoritative, muscular and brimming with energy,
sounding newly minted.
The concert opened with a spacious performance of the
Leonore No.3 Overture. Gatti brought intense drama to the opening
passages, sustaining a measured pace and producing delicately restrained
playing from the strings. This reserved opening contrasted well with
the drama of the developing sections where the RPO gradually built up
the tension and drama, with the string section assuming razor sharpness.
Freddy Kempf brought vigour and dynamism to his playing of Beethoven’s
Piano Concerto No 3. Kempf launched into the opening bars,
appearing literally to take flight. He is interesting to watch, having
great magnetism, and hands that move at lightening speed, playing with
vivacity and awesome attack, and making the music sound uncannily modern
yet remaining true to Beethoven’s intentions. Indeed, the opening movement
sounded as if it was being improvised, especially the cadenza, which
had the flavour of a jazz riff. As he says, "…I try to bring
a feeling of fresh discovery to every performance."
The Largo had an extreme dynamic range played
with more force and weight than is usually heard, whilst the closing
passages had a fragmentary quality, almost coming to a halt, so concentrated
was his playing; again Kempf’s spontaneity gave the impression of playing
extempore. In the Allegro Kempf shifted mood, playing with an
agile lightness of touch, his hands floating with an assured ease. Throughout
his playing Kempf kept a keen eye on conductor and players, always in
total accord with them, while Gatti and RPO responded with expressive
and sensitive support.
The RPO played with even greater intensity and energy
in Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Gatti maintained the tempi of
the opening passages to perfection, building up a great sense of expectation
and tension. There was something wonderfully animalistic and raw about
the conductor’s hard driven and rhythmically vital approach. The antithesis
of Karajan and Guilini, Gatti elicited deep grained, jagged and angular
textures and rhythms more akin to Klemperer’s sound. What was so refreshing
was the rugged and gutsy playing of the RPO that gave this movement
(indeed, the whole symphony) such a cutting edge.
The Allegretto was conducted with great eloquence
and buoyancy never dragging as it sometimes can, the playing of the
strings being especially delicate and hushed in the reflective moments.
The Presto was vigorously paced with Gatti producing great dance
rhythms reminding one of Wagner’s statement that "This symphony is
the very apotheosis of the dance."
The Allegro is arguably the most difficult movement
to conduct in this symphony with its complex dynamics and multi-layered
rhythms but Gatti pulled it off effortlessly, being in perfect control
of his forces. Here he turned up the tension getting an even more intense
grainy sound and taut rhythms, with thrusting horns and swirling strings.
As we progressed towards the closing passages, Gatti inexorably piled
on the pressure; it gave the illusion of unleashing a force of nature,
giving the music the power of a tornado.
Gatti’s Beethoven cycle, with the same soloist and
orchestra, continues on May 13th, June 1st and
June 3rd. On the strength of this showing, they are not to