The Leipzig Gewandhaus completed its nine-day residency at the Barbican, as well as its cycle of Brahms concertos and symphonies, by doing full justice to outstanding pieces in both of the genres.
As soon as the orchestra, under the baton of Riccardo Chailly, struck up for the opening Allegro non troppo of Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, there was a sense of the velvety richness that generally characterises its sound combined with a stridency that kept the output taut at all times. The tempi adopted were, in fact, always highly appropriate, keeping the sound rhythmically and musically precise while never making anything feel as if it was moving with too little momentum or too great a sense of urgency.
When soloist Leonidas Kavakos entered, it was with the expressive quality of a master who knew every nuance of every note, the opening lines approached with an unwaveringly perfect blend of smoothness and punctuation. His cadenza was also a model of sensitivity, his immaculate bowing packing detail after detail into a sound which invited the listener further and further into the music.
A brilliant feature of Brahms’ Violin Concerto, and as it proved this performance in particular, is the interaction and dialogue it creates between the solo violin and wind, and the contributions of the flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon soloists were all outstanding. Most striking of all perhaps was the start of the Adagio in which oboist Domenico Orlando put in a performance of exquisite depth and resonance.
The final Allegro saw Kavakos exercise exceptional management in his execution of the various ‘Hungarian gypsy’ figurations, although perhaps a little too much in the sense that I would prefer to see such a large level of control (and it is certainly required) channelled towards creating a greater sense of chaos and tripping through the notes. This is, however, purely a matter of taste, and the final three chords put the seal on what was by any measure a copybook performance.
After the interval, the orchestra demonstrated ideal affinity with Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. The strings, in particular, leant brilliantly into and out of each phrase within the sixteen note opening motif. The variations on this theme that followed throughout the first movement possessed a spirituality that derived from the orchestra understanding every technical detail of them, and hence of how to elicit their meaning and inner beauty. Throughout the symphony, the orchestra maintained a rich and sensuous sound that never felt too thin or conversely descended into the type of stodgy self-indulgence that can stultify Brahms, and the final movement’s flute solo was especially sweet and moving.
Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk.