The most memorable feature of this concert
was the sublime playing of violinist Gil Shaham,
who substituted for an indisposed Kyung Wha
Chung. This unexpected appearance brought
his recent series of London concerts to a
fortuitous but none the less welcome climax.
performance of Beethoven’s Overture, Leonore
No. 1 prefaced Shaham’s intuitive interpretation
of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto; mesmerising
from beginning to end, it left the audience
transfixed both by the sheer intensity of
his gleaming playing and his alluring stage
persona. The Allegro ma non troppo
fluctuated between a subtle radiance and a
rugged, toughness; the soloist played from
his entire being with tremendous physicality,
often lunging towards the conductor with big
Larghetto, Shaham switched to a plangent
sweetness of tone, producing notes so tranquil
and ethereal that they seemed to hover fractionally
before drifting and dwindling into the furthest
reaches of the spellbound hall. In the concluding
Rondo Shaham brought out a multiplicity
of moods making the notes sound like a conversation
between a constellation of violinists: here
one could hear not just one voice but many.
Again he used his whole body to bring forth
the most extraordinary sounds, the like of
which I have never heard before in this work.
Shaham’s genius is to make us listen to a
score as if it were newly minted, stripped
of timeworn clichés.
the conductor took his cues from his soloist
and conducted with a crisp directness; indeed,
this was by far the best conducting of the
evening and I suspect it was his soloist that
kept Wolf so attentive.
second half opened with a flat-footed performance
of Debussy’s Prelude á l'après-midi
d'un faune. While the playing was highly
polished the music lacked sensual glow; Wolf
failed to register the sheer eroticism of
Rite of Spring was conducted with gusto
Wolf rarely conjured up a sense of savagery.
The Philharmonia played with their customary
slickness but the performance was largely
untheatrical. In Harbingers of Spring:
Dances of the Adolescents, the strings
were under-projected; in stark contrast, the
brass, timpani and bass drum had a brutal
bite in Mock Abduction and Games
of the Rival Tribes. The pacing of
Adoration of the Earth and Dance of
the Earth were too ponderous, negating
any sense of forward-thrusting manic movement.
Two: The Sacrifice faired much better
with a perfectly paced Introduction (Largo);
here the Philharmonia produced suitably subdued
eerie sounds, while in The Summoning of
the Ancestors, the timpani playing was
intense and incisive. The drama only really
unfolded with The Sacrificial Dance
of the Chosen One where Wolf’s tempi brutally
drove home the relentless pulse of the music;
the closing passages were the most exciting
of an otherwise rather tame performance.
by the Philharmonia’s demeanour straight after
the concert I sensed there was little rapport
between orchestra and conductor. I strongly
recommend Karel Ancerl’s recording of the
Rite of Spring with the Czech Philharmonic
Orchestra (coupled with his equally outstanding
account of Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky: Supraphon:
11 1948-2 911).