Concert Review

Schumann Overture Manfred, Op. 115. Wagner Wesendonk Lieder. Shostakovich Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93. LPO/Haitink with Petra Lang (mezzo). RFH, 12 April 2000.

This was a carefully-planned programme, through which ran the theme of the composer as embodiment of the outsider - Schumann's Manfred Overture deals with Byron's hero, epitome of restless Romantic insecurity; Wagner, himself the outcast in his departure from Germany after his involvement with the 1848 revolution and finally Shostakovich, the archetypal composer struggling against Soviet censorship.

Schumann's Manfred, Op. 115 was, perhaps, the least musically successful item of the programme. Despite a seamless transition to the allegro, the development lacked the requisite drama. One was, however, consistently impressed by Haitink's ability to delineate textures throughout - although some problems with wind and brass ensemble detracted somewhat.

The entry into a more intimate world in Wagner's Wesendonk Lieder of 1857/8 brought with it an altogether higher experience. This was due in no small part to the soloist on this occasion, the mezzo Petra Lang. She was possessed of a burnished, deep, chesty tone in the first setting, Der Engel, but it was her ability to see each Lied as a whole entity which impressed most - in the second song, 'Stehe still! (Stand still!) her initial robustness and underplaying of many of the emotional opportunities meant that her highlighting of the final phrase 'Heilige Natur' (Holy Nature) was wonderfully effective. And so I could go on - the desolation of 'Im Triebhaus' was near palpable whilst maintaining textbook diction throughout. In Traume (the last of the set and the only one actually orchestrated by Wagner - the rest being arranged by Felix Mottl) Haitink reminded us of the deceptive simplicity of the composer's scoring, spinning a subtly-spun web over which Lang floated effortlessly. (Petra Lang is due to sing Kundry at the Proms under Rattle.).

Michael White's excellent pre-concert talk on Shostakovich's Tenth re-opened questions of ciphers and politics and set the scene appropriately for Haitink's account. We were left in no doubt as to the LPO's virtuosity throughout (just one example was the first violin's articulation at the allegro of the last movement) but more than this, Haitink guided us through the whole gamut of emotions, from the profound stillness of the opening paragraphs, through eloquence and spiky parody in the third movement, Allegretto. A most moving experience.


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