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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Haitink’s Beethoven (III): Gordan Nikolitch, violin, Tim Hugh, cello, Lars Vogt, piano, London Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, conductor, Barbican, 26.11.2005 (TJH)



Beethoven – Triple Concerto in C

Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 in F, “Pastoral”




I felt a vague sense of disappointment at the end of Saturday’s concert with the London Symphony Orchestra.  Despite the brilliantly executed performances I had just witnessed of two of Beethoven’s most buoyantly bucolic pieces, I couldn’t help feeling slightly peeved as the final round of applause erupted around me.  This was the third concert in a so far exemplary Beethoven cycle by Bernard Haitink, a cycle marked by its conceptual integrity and well-thought programming – but I couldn’t help wondering whose cruel idea it was to tease us with half a cycle and then make us wait five agonising months for the rest?  Such mean-spiritedness is entirely at odds with the generosity of Beethoven’s music, Haitink’s interpretations, and – dare I say it – the spirit of the Christmas season itself.  Such Grinch-like antics are utterly intolerable.

All I can say is that it’s just as well we will have the memory of this fantastic concert to tide us over until April.  It began with the most infrequently heard of Beethoven’s concertos, the Triple Concerto in C major.  Usually rather costly to put on – requiring as it does expenditure on not one but three soloists – the LSO took the economical decision to employ its capable Leader, Gordan Nikolitch, and equally capable Principal Cello, Tim Hugh, in two of the three starring roles.   The third was taken by up-and-coming pianist Lars Vogt who, apart from his work as a soloist, is a well-regarded chamber musician.  All three put their experience as ensemble players to great use here, working very much as a team, with no one instrument dominating.  The effect, rather than being of three soloists against an orchestra, was that of a finely tuned and well-rehearsed piano trio, given subtle support from the bevy of players behind them.  And though one might have wished for better intonation or richer tone from the string soloists, the unity of purpose and spirit between the three of them was entirely worth the sacrifice.

A similar quality pervaded the Sixth Symphony which followed.  Despite the size and fullness of the orchestral sound, Haitink made this as frolicsome and merry a Pastoral as I have heard, with only the vividly noisy storm scene acting as a dark counterweight.  There was real gaiety in the third movement’s country dance, with the strings playing with the sort of delightful exuberance their leader had shown during the concerto; likewise, the outer movements were as taut and energetic as a string quartet.  But the greatest pleasure was to be had in the Scene by the Brook, which flowed with such ease and tranquillity that it was an effort not to smile throughout.  All together, it made for the best sort of countryside outing: the sort that leaves you refreshed and filled with a sense of wellbeing for the rest of the evening.

The upside of this five-month break is that it gives London audiences plenty of time to book their tickets for symphonies 1, 4, 5, 8 and 9.  In fact, if you haven’t done so already, and you have even the vaguest appreciation of Beethoven’s music, I suggest you do so now.  It will be quite some time before we witness a cycle of this quality again.



Tristan Jakob-Hoff


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