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Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak; Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), Lynn Harrell (cello); London Philharmonic Orchestra, Kurt Masur (conductor); RFH, 2nd October, 2004 (AR)


Kurt Masur opened his London Philharmonic Orchestra programme with Felix Mendelssohn’s Overture Ruy Blas Op.95. Mendelssohn was at one time Kapellmeister of the prestigious Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a position subsequently held by Masur, who seems to have a particular affinity with this composer’s work. He conducted with agility and attack, conjuring up crisp, taut playing from the LPO who really relished playing this dazzling score, getting the evening off to a promising start.


Brahms’ Double Concerto suffers from a dearth of soloists that can play in unison without clashes of ego or style of playing. Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lynn Harrell were the ideal marriage, the perfect partnership, each being attuned to the other’s temperaments and moods. Harrell’s warm, deep grainy ‘cello notes and perfect control of legato contrasted well with Mutter’s lighter, astringent tone - his rich garnet sound perfectly complemented her pellucid aquamarine coolness. Their playing was subtle and intimate rather than extrovert and showy, as if engaged in a private conversation. Throughout Harrell kept an eagle eye on Mutter, taking his cue from her as if she were initiating their musical exchanges.


With the Andante Mutter and Harrell adopted sombre and serene moods like intimate conspirators, producing whispering and caressing sounds; again there was a perfect rapport between them. With the concluding Vivace non troppo their conversation became more gruff and rugged, a kind of backslapping camaraderie, but without lapsing into strident coarseness or vulgarity. Masur and the LPO offered full-blooded support throughout, with the strings in particular having warmth and body.


Dvorák's Ninth Symphony was given a refreshingly muscular, urgent and richly textured performance by Masur and the LPO, who seem to have rediscovered their true form after their recent untidy and anarchic account of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The Adagio – Allegro molto had the appropriate forward drive with Masur - observing the exposition repeat - securing taut rhythms and tough playing, making the music fizz with energy.


The Largo demonstrated a very wide dynamic range from the subdued passages of Sue Bohling’s poignant cor anglais to the closing climactic passages with punctuating trombones. What made Masur’s reading so refreshing was its lack of sentimentality. The Scherzo Masur conducted with great verve, his arm movements reminiscent of the gestures of a ballet dancer. The Allegro con fuoco had all the urgency and intensity required, with Masur encouraging his players to produce truly exhilarating sounds; here the full blooded LPO horns has great gusto and shone gloriously: unlike their recent somewhat wayward performance in the Tchaikovsky Fifth, this time Masur kept a more disciplined control of the brass. The LPO string tone was weighty and full-bodied, playing with furious energy as if their lives depended upon it. Masur’s charismatic authority stamped this New World with a sense of distinction: a deeply felt account but performed with a sense of urgency and exhilaration.


Luckily for posterity this concert was being recorded for the LPO’s archives. For an encore, we were given Dvorák's Slavonic Dance N0. 2 Op 72, which was performed with grace and humour, bringing an evening of rapturous music making to a fitting climax.


Alex Russell


Further listening:

Brahms: Double Concerto; Second Symphony; Joseph Suk (violin); André Navarra (cello), Czech Philharmonic, Karel Ancerl (conductor): Ancerl Gold Edition No. 31: Supraphon: SU 3691-2

Dvorak Symphonies 9 & 7, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik (conductor): Decca Legends: 466 994-2 DM



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