Concert Review

Beethoven: Violin Concerto; Zimmermann: Photoptosis; Scriabin: Poem of Ecstasy
Kyung Wha-Chung (violin); London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ingo Metzmacher (conductor) Royal Festival Hall Thursday 9 December 1999

The LPO's Regeneration festival has been a low-key affair, tying in a number of concerts within a loose overview of musical and cultural renewal. Tonight's concert was an oddly sequenced affair, which worked thanks to the coherence of approach taken by Metzmacher. In the context of his 1800's output, Beethoven' s Violin Concerto is his most self-effacing work, keeping its formal and tonal innovations firmly beneath its lyrical, introspective demeanour. Kyung-Wha Chung struck a fine balance between clarity and warmth of expression; good to hear this fine musician, in recent years overshadowed by Mutter and Mullova, in such incisive form. The Kreisler cadenza for once sounded integral to the musical argument, rather than an insert of controlled (complacent?) virtuosity from a later age.

Metzmacher proved an alert, attentive accompanist, before taking centre-stage in the second half. Bernd Alois Zimmermann's original and compulsively fascinating music has made headway here in recent years, not least through English National Opera's staging of the opera Die Soldaten in 1996. Photoptosis (1968) is a brilliant example of his extreme but mesmerising late orchestral style (Zimmermann killed himself in 1970). The penetrating outer climaxes frame a luminous sequence of quotations - a cultural montage abstracted in time and place.

The RFH audience responded with polite bemusment, before clearly relishing the taut yet visceral conception Metzmacher brought to Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy. Initially tentative, it blazed in glory at the close. Forget theosophy, this music enshrines something much more primal.  Metzmacher has recorded Zimmermann's early, hard-hitting Symphony in One Movement [EMI CDC5 56184-2]. Sad that an EMI-Electrola contract has been allowed to expire: in particular, his cycle of Karl Amadeus Hartmann's symphonies [try No. 6 on EMI CDC5 55612-2] has been an unsung achievement of the 1990s. A recently-issued, strongly musical realisation of Berg's Wozzeck [EMI CDS5 56865-2, 2CDs] is also worth acquiring.

Hopefully this well-received concert presages further appearances in this country. An interpretative all-rounder, Metzmacher is clearly a force for good on the present musical scene.

Richard Whitehouse

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