During the 2008/09 season, the London Chamber Orchestra and their Music Director, Christopher Warren-Green, have been exploring the works of Beethoven.
With the help of the choral group Nunc Dimittis, the LCO dedicated the season’s final concert, appropriately enough, to the composer’s Ninth and last symphony.
For this outing, the LCO’s ensemble included 25 strings, which provided an ideal balance with the woodwind forces required for Beethoven’s Ninth as well as providing just the right amount of volume to fill the inner spaces of St John’s. Their playing was energetic as well as virtuosic, not surprising from an ensemble which includes such distinguished players such as violinist Rosemary Furniss, flautist Jonathan Snowden and oboist Gordon Hunt.
Nevertheless, this was a perplexing interpretation of the symphony. Warren-Green’s account of the first movement was well paced, but the performance suffered from abrasive climaxes and rampant, clattering timpani which all too often sounded like a thunder sheet. The Scherzo was similar, the refined woodwind articulation undermined by the timpani, every note distractingly prominent.
The Adagio provided some relief from the aural assault of the earlier movements, but a lack of dynamic variation meant that pianissimos were often too loud, and movement as a whole was somewhat wanting in lyricism and serenity.
Interestingly, it was the fourth movement, the most problematic in many interpretations, which came across the best. Warren-Green led a spirited account of the famous main theme, and there was some excellent work by the orchestra’s percussion section. Among the four soloists, the soprano Tomoko Taguchi stood out for her vibrant and involving performance, and there were strong contributions from mezzo Anne-Fleur Inizan and baritone Elias Benito-Arranz. The young tenor Gijs Van der Linden wasn’t always ideally audible, but it is only fair to point out that he was a last minute replacement for another tenor. The glowing sound provided by the 40 singers of Nunc Dimittis helped the performance forge something of the power and reach that was missing from the earlier movements.