Editor: Marc Bridle
Webmaster: Len Mullenger
Seen and Heard Concert Review
This concert of Beethoven’s Sixth and Seventh symphonies formed part of Kurt Masur’s ongoing Beethoven cycle (the first in the UK to use Breitkopf & Härtel’s new edition). On the evidence of this instalment, this cycle is a major event. Already thoughts are going towards the concerts of the year 2005 and this is only my second reviewed concert so far.
Masur has grounded himself in these works. His first traversal of the complete cycle (coupled with the complete Overtures on Philips) was actually my first Beethoven on LP and he was subsequently to re-record them. The orchestral forces used was of the old school - eight double-basses, a string section that filled the stage and four horns (valved) in each symphony (usually alternating pairs). But if that is to imply a certain heaviness, nothing could be further form the truth. Neither could Masur be accused of favouring natural lushness - the rawness of some of the (hunting) horn writing saw to that.
‘Pastoral’’s opening movement had an open-air feel
to it, yet one was simultaneously aware of the weight in the lower
strings. The most remarkable technical achievement here was the
sheer sense of ensemble, though. The LPO’s strings played magnificently
together, a reflection of the evident care that had gone into these
performances. Oboes piped as to the manner born; Masur pointed up
a reference to the ‘rain’ of the storm to come, an allusion that
had not registered on this reviewer before.
And the Seventh was hardly less so. Some may take
issue, particularly in this symphony, with Masur’s conventional
string placement. There is so much antiphonal violin writing that
surely dividing the firsts and seconds across the conductor is logical?
That aside, this was some of the most memorable Beethoven I have
heard. The familiar introduction even emerged in a new light, the
short, stabbing tutti chords functioning as a punctuating element
to an underlying, attempted lyricism. Masur brought a wonderful
sense of space to this ‘Poco sostenuto’. A fast vivace (exciting,
blaring horns) continued the feeling of a massive utterance being
underway, so that the feeling of ‘arrival’ at the recap was visceral.
All four horns brought superb bravura to the end, a feeling of relief
arrived at after the disturbing, obsessive, grinding basses.
Masur is often accused of a certain dullness, especially on record. Not a trace of that in the finale, though. The LPO gave their all (string semiquaver definition was jaw-dropping). True, using all four horns on the blaring bits was on the effect-making side, but over and above that was Masur’s masterly rhythmic grip. There was nothing shallow here, the excitement being generated internally from inside the score rather than externally pasted on. Basses glowered ominously as Masur’s interpretation reached white heat. So, a concert of the year so early on? Watch this space.