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Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4 (Italian)
Schumann Violin Concerto
Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3 (Scottish)
When the London Symphony Orchestra visited last April we heard a stunning programme of Mozart and Mahler. Last Saturday’s programme was smaller, more classical but no less beautiful: Schumann and Mendelssohn – the latter featured recently as BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week. Joyful and approachable music too.
After a slightly shaky start to the Italian Symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra slipped into its stride and delivered. There was some beautiful wind playing, and the general sound of this orchestra was stunningly clear and positive, capturing the poetry of the music. Sir John Eliot Gardiner shaped the performance in masterly style, tearing through a hectic Saltarello with panache.
The strings played standing, with cellos and basses on risers to the left of centre. Being slightly raised, the lower strings blended nicely with the other strings, and having first and second violins on opposite sides produced a good antiphonal effect in both Mendelssohn symphonies.
Standing the musicians removed the constraints of chairs and gave them freedom to move – it also highlighted various interpretations of evening dress. However, in G Live the wind section became completely hidden from view for anyone in roughly the first 30% of the raised seating.
The Schumann Violin Concerto was admirably performed by Alina Ibragimova, a consummate star. I confess the piece is not one of my favourites – it seems to meander aimlessly through some technically difficult passages in an introspective manner no matter who the soloist.
Sir John and the orchestra gave good support, but although seated and reduced in number, the strings inevitably covered the soloist some of the time. Despite occasional shaky ensemble in the slow movement, there were many enjoyable moments, some pastiche and some “deft Mendelssohnian touches” which possibly justified the inclusion. Perhaps I just need to listen again, several times, to gain better understanding of this concerto.
The Scottish Symphony was performed like large chamber music and, strings standing once more, it completed the programme beautifully. Sir John set a fast pace yet still extracted a glowing sound from the orchestra, the wind rich and full-bodied, with some fabulous clarinet playing in the second movement. Really outstanding ensemble playing all round.
At one dramatic moment (after some particularly stunning playing) the magical silence was interrupted by the blaring of a steward’s mobile phone that went unanswered for the ten paces he took to reach the exit. Like politician to heckler, Sir John gave a withering look of disdain before carrying on regardless.
This was romantic orchestral performance at its best, and every section played a vital part – well done the violas! The whole symphony was beautifully shaped and finely phrased, the climactic horns and timpani sending us home with a smile.
The Stage Dragon
Note: Did you attend this concert? What did you think? Please add your comments below.