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Haitink’s Beethoven I: Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin, London Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, conductor, Barbican, 16.11.2005 (TJH)

 

 

Beethoven: Leonore Overture No. 2

Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A

 

 

 

Bernard Haitink spent 2004, the year of his 75th birthday, revisiting the cornerstones of his repertoire as a conductor, with some of the finest orchestras in the world under his baton and with countless doting admirers under his spell.  His performances of Mahler and Bruckner in particular were amongst the finest of his distinguished career, but his ongoing journey of consolidation and rediscovery did not end when he turned 76 this March.  On Thursday, Haitink began yet another reappraisal of one of the composers closest to his heart, with the first in a series of all-Beethoven concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra.

As a matter of fact, this is the LSO’s first integral cycle of the nine Beethoven symphonies in 21 years, so it was some comfort to see that the concert was being recorded for posterity on the orchestra’s own LSO Live label.  Well, let me be the first to recommend the future release of this concert to CD buyers: it may be amongst the best purchases you make in 2006, because it was certainly amongst the best concerts I have been to in 2005.

Haitink’s opening gambit was a Leonore Overture No. 2 that sounded as epic as any symphonic movement.  Deploying extended luftpausen to breathtaking effect in the slow introduction, he unleashed the full force of the LSO’s brass and percussion in the joyous Allegro that followed, disproving the notion that the scholarship of recent years has robbed Beethoven of his power.  And so too with the Seventh Symphony, whose famous “slow” movement was taken at a proper Allegretto clip, but proved all the more affecting for wearing its tragedy so lightly.  In fact, this was a mostly carefree account of the Seventh, closer in spirit to the effervescent Eighth than to the broader scope of the earlier Fifth and Sixth symphonies.  Haitink showed it to be the work of a master with nothing left to prove, simply reveling in the skill of his craft.

But better still was the evening’s centrepiece, the Violin Concerto in D – better because it teamed Haitink up with a soloist who perfectly complemented Haitink’s great qualities as a conductor.  Frank Peter Zimmermann has built up an enviable reputation over the years, but his performance on Thursday surely sealed his status as one of the finest violinists of his generation.  Like Haitink, he was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve; but also like Haitink, he was capable of producing some astonishing music-making, allying a master craftsman’s technical prowess with a music-lover’s foot-stomping exuberance.  Most impressive was his range of tone: at times, the ghost of Kreisler seemed to flow through Zimmermann’s instrument (once owned by the great man himself); while in the folksy finale, he played with an aggressive spikiness that belied his pitch-perfect intonation.  In all, it was a flawless performance, a real classic, and one which I very much look forward to experiencing again when it comes out on CD.

 

 

Tristan Jakob-Hoff





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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)