Mozart, Dvorak: London Symphony Orchestra,
John Eliot Gardiner (conductor), Leif Ove
Andsnes (piano). Barbican
Hall, London 09.11.2006.
Eliot Gardiner launched into the ‘Poco
allegro’ of Martinu’s superbly
terse ‘Double concerto’ with tremendous precision
and sustained rhythmic energy. The underlying ‘darkness’
and ‘grim antiphony’ of the work (written for Paul
Sacher in 1939, and performed by Sacher
in 1940) is obviously informed by the grim political
events in Europe at that time…although Martinu
did not provide any programme or allusions to this
effect. Eliot Gardiner played the piece very much
as a dramatic re-working of a classical ‘concerto
grosso’ - tough, difficult,
contrapuntal music seems to suit his musical psychology.
After the sustained and ominous ‘Largo’ and the scrupulously
executed final ‘Allegro’ , with its complex pizzicato
rhythms and wild polyphonic string configurations
I was left wondering why this superb work is not performed
more often? It makes a wonderful compliment to the
more famous ‘Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
by Bartok, also commissioned
and first performed by Paul Sacher,
two years earlier.
Leif Ove Andsnes
gave a rather detached if quite accurate performance
of the Mozart’s endlessly engaging Piano Concerto
in G major, K453. By ‘detached’, I do not mean to
imply that a more ‘romantic’ or ‘rhetorical’ reading
is required (as some commentators have insisted).
But more engagement (dialogue) is required between
piano and orchestra. Also, Andsnes
paid little attention to Mozart’s superb and diverse
textural and harmonic range… it all sounded a little
opaque. This was all the more frustrating as Eliot
Gardiner and a very well rehearsed LSO provided plenty
of scope for such dialogue. At times in the ‘Andante’
Andsnes seemed to be merely
accompanying the orchestra rather than the other way
around; something you never experience with pianists
like Serkin and Uchida.
Nevertheless it was a sheer joy to here all the operatic
high spirits of the concerto’s coda, with its headlong
(‘Figaro’ sounding) final rush, executed with such
clarity. Here, in particular, the woodwinds excelled
themselves. Gardiner, of course, deployed ‘divisi’
firsts and second violins.
I was particularly looking forward to Eliot Gardiner’s
view of a standard nineteenth century symphony; would
this baroque ‘specialist’ shed new light on an old
‘war-horse’? Well, yes and no, as it turned out. Yes,
in paying scrupulous attention to instrumental/contrapuntal
detail; no, in not really being fully in touch with
Dvorak’s very Czech rhythms and numerous influences
from lyrically charged Czech folk traditions. Although
this symphony is now firmly established in the Dvorak
symphonic canon this is a relatively recent formation.
From its first performance (in Prague in 1890, under the composer’s
direction) it was seen as a lesser work. Brahms, who
admired Dvorak, thought the piece pleasant but lacking
in real symphonic substance. And even the usually
perceptive Tovey dismissed
it as ‘a much weaker work’.
John Eliot Gardiner is much more historically aware than
most of his conductor colleague’s and I had the impression
that here he was attempting to insert an element of
symphonic weight (actually German symphonic weight)
that Brahms, for one, found lacking in the piece.
The opening ‘Allegro con brio’ theme on the cellos
dragged rather with none of that dance inflection
one hears in the old Czech Phil, Talich
recording. Gardiner emphasised
the weight of the orchestra in the short (variation
like) first movement development section; but again
I heard no dance-like lightness and lucidity of texture
one hears with conductors like Talich,
Sejna, and indeed, Mackerras.
The first movement’s rousing and jubilant coda was
well played but lacked that diverse buoyant rhythmic
thrust one hears in more idiomatic performances.
The ‘Adagio’ second movement is not an adagio in the
strict sense; again containing a set of variations
with march- like intonations.
Again Eliot Gardiner started rather ‘sotto voce’ and
slowly, having to pick up tempo by the time he reached
the C minor processional section, heralded by a thrillingly
played horn motive. Although the movement went quite
well in general I was aware of certain moments (especially
towards the end of the movement) where the music dragged.
The charming third movement minuet/waltz, although elegantly
delivered, was subjected to a number of tempo/dynamic
variations (as though Gardiner was over-characterizing
the music) which interfered with the movement’s simple,
The trumpet calls which herald the final Allegro were
played too loudly, sounding a tad strident. Also,
by the time of the exultant coda, a few minor (but
noticeable) horn and trumpet glitches ensued. Again
Gardiner too often dragged the opening variations
on celli and complete strings, sounding turgid at
times. The jubilant and carnival - like main allegro
on full orchestra sounded a little bashed – out (more
bounce and rhythmic diversity/contrast is needed here…
as again demonstrated by Talich). The subsiding variation theme, before the brief and
carnivalesque coda, was
again dragged out to what seemed like an eternity,
thereby missing that sense of surprise and contrast
heralded by the coda. Unusually for Gardiner the fashionable
first and second violins arrangement, where they are
all seated on the conductor’s left, was adhered to,
thus missing a whole range of antiphonal effects and
At the end of tonight’s concert’s first half Leif Ove Andsnes played as an encore
Mendelssohn’s charming Op 85, No 6 song without words.