The oldest orchestra in Europe, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, made its first appearance at the Proms under its new musical director, Riccardo Chailly.
It beguiled and dazzled in a programme by composers at the core of its repertoire.This concert will surely go down as one of the most memorable of the 2007 season.
The Leipzig Gewandhaus can trace its lineage back 250 years – one of its earliest conductors was Mendelssohn no less – but here with its new principal conductor, Riccardo Chailly it offered immaculate playing in differing works by two composers most closely associated with it: Beethoven and Brahms.
The concert got off to a rollicking start with Beethovens Coriolan Overture which nicely fitted into one of this years Proms themes: Shakespeare. Based on Coriolanus, Heinrich Collins wrote Coriolan in 1802 and its likely that Beethoven provided the overture for a revival in Vienna in 1807. The raw emotion portrayed in the music was brilliantly realized by Chailly and the orchestra – the string tone silky and fulsome with wonderful articulate playing from the woodwind.
A somewhat restrained performance of Beethovens Violin Concerto followed – although theres nothing wrong in that – performed by the exciting young soloist Viviane Hagner. There was a chamber-like intensity to her playing, whilst Chailly and the orchestra provided a wonderful cushion of sound to support her delicate sound. The first movement, at twenty-five minutes, is the longest Beethoven wrote, yet Hagner never left the momentum sag, and came into her own in the wonderfully virtuosic cadenza (written by Fritz Kreisler). We had to wait for the moronic applause to die down before the second and third movements, which were as equally intensely delivered as the first. Chailly and Hagner perfectly judged the mood of this least showy of Beethovens concertos.
After the interval we were treated to a no-holds barred performance of Brahms magisterial Fourth Symphony. Never before in the concert hall have I heard so much detail emerge in this score, and it certainly helped that Chailly had the first violins on his left and the seconds on his right – the balance was perfect. Chailly cranked up the emotional tension throughout the whole span of the symphony – the Scherzo had a visceral thrill that Ive not encountered in this work before (well, perhaps on disc in Carlos Kleibers incandescent recording with DG) with exceptional playing from the horns. Chaillys pacing was faultless throughout and a wonderfully energetic final movement brought this most powerful symphony to its inexorable conclusion.
As an encore, more Brahms and as the orchestra began playing my heart sank – not because they werent playing Brahms Academic Festival Overture magnificently – but the main theme of this work was butchered to become my school song Oh stand we together, together let us stand So thanks Birkenhead School! Anyway, it was a fitting conclusion to a glorious concert by one of the finest orchestras in the world.