Seen and Heard Concert Review
Schumann, Shostakovich, Brahms: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Valéry Gergiev (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 14.9.06 (AO)
has conducted so much Shostakovich this year that he probably
needs to work with different orchestras to keep himself
refreshed. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is
so good that people would even come to hear them play
Dambuster. Moreover, the concert also featured
Brahms Fourth and greatest symphony, a piece associated
closely with the orchestra since its premiere, attended
by the composer himself. This combination of conductor,
orchestra and programme was a sure fire winner, and the
concert was, predictably, sold out.
A tuba and trombone fanfare reasserts the “military” imagery, but with a huge element of parody. It’s followed by mournful bassoon, but the composer doesn’t dwell on the grimness. Instead the music makes another volte-face, and the bassoon whips itself into a merry dance. This time, the first violins take up a more lyrical melody, while the second violins continue the tense staccato march. Is the revolt spreading? Where will it lead? The music grows louder, wilder and darker, as form seems to disintegrate into sub units. The sheer vivacity of the writing pushes the music forward. This humour has a savage, manic edge – Mozart would, I think, have appreciated the way Shostakovich writes with such double meaning.
The soloists were superlative – the woodwinds especially, since the music favoured them. Brahms Fourth Symphony embeds the solos into the overall texture. The strings can display their lush Romantic tone. The famous clarinet solo was gloriously limpid, supported by quiet pizzicato. The final Allegro was fluidly energetic, affirming the themes that had gone before with confidence. If I haven’t written much on Brahms, it’s not because it wasn’t excellent, but because this symphony is a monument in the orchestra’s repertoire and it would only be “news” if it wasn’t superbly played.