Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LPO/Herbig @ Royal Festival Hall, London

26 November 2010

Southbank Centre

Royal Festival Hall (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

Scholars will argue that it is misleading to describe Bruckners Symphony No. 9 in D minor as a valedictory testament in the same vein as Mozarts Requiem or Mahlers Tenth Symphony, works also left incomplete at the composers deaths. Although Bruckner knew he was ailing by the time he had finished the first three movements in 1894, that was not case when he embarked on the Symphony in August 1887, just days after first completing his Eighth.

Be that as it may, this performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Gnther Herbig, gave the Symphony a strong air of finality. One only had to sit and listen to the tension, anguish and sheer potency inherent in the music to be left asking the most basic of questions. Where, on earth, could any composer have gone from here?

The first movement, with its astonishingly massive structure, created real tension from the outset. The strong sense of agitation in the opening string tremolo brought gravitas to the performance as if the listener was being plunged to the depths of a chasm. The climax to the first section, which involved the full orchestra, was overwhelming precisely because the brass remained so in balance with the rest of the players. Just as impressive, however, were the lighter string passages, with the higher and lower instruments interacting to good effect.

The second movement, which starts with pizzicato strings but very soon becomes something much deeper and darker, felt similarly daring and profound. The flute and oboe solos were exquisitely executed, while the movement as a whole was characterised by a skilful managing of tension and release. The strings, in particular, could provide just a few seconds of light relief before themselves producing a sound that was far more foreboding.

In the Adagio, the final completed movement, the introduction of the Wagner tubas took the performance to another level again, while the orchestra demonstrated great suppleness in conveying the sumptuousness, power and melancholy that the movement demands by turns. The ending, in particular, was wonderfully managed, the orchestra rising to the greatest climax of all, cutting off the earth shattering chord abruptly, and then fading away to almost nothing. The extent to which the audience was moved was demonstrated by the subdued nature of the applause. After having been taken to the very depths of Bruckners soul, it simply didnt feel appropriate to be pounding hands together with any type of force.

Before the interval Andreas Haefliger had been the soloist for Mozarts Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, K503. His was a rhythmically superb performance, rendering every note with a lightness and tenderness that kept everything precise, and yet bringing a sense of solidity to the performance by virtue of the overarching coherency to his playing. The orchestra was occasionally ragged in ending its phrases, but overall worked well with Haefliger so that he seemed neither to dominate, nor be subservient, to the larger group. The flute and oboe echoing of the piano line also stood out by virtue of the accuracy and beauty inherent in their execution.

Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk

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