Bernard Haitink‘s Beethoven is a varied creature, and the LSO’s cycle of his symphonic music gets more intriguing with each new concert. The pairings of different works have been so far invigorating, with the subtle dignity of the Violin Concerto and Seventh Symphony in the first concert well contrasted with the whirlwind colours of the Second and the Eroica in the second instalment. This time around, the clean textures of the Triple Concerto were set against the most programmatic of the symphonies, the Pastoral.
The three soloists in the concerto were all extraordinary, but the stand-out performance came from the violinist Gordan Nikolitch. The LSO is lucky to have such a remarkable soloist as its leader because, as this concert showed, he has an international-class talent, which would match the Vengerovs of this world any day. His tone quality, projection and attack combine to breathtaking effect, no matter what repertoire he is playing, and the orchestra plays with noticeably more vim under his inspirational leadership.
Lars Vogt was also excellent as the solo pianist, establishing a great repartee with his co-soloists and playing with flair and a firm, masculine tone. And although LSO Principal Cellist Tim Hugh took a while to get into his stride, playing too tentatively in the first movement, he raised his game for the finale.
The solo group’s co-ordination with the orchestra and each other was spot-on, for instance in the unison scales of the first movement. Haitink was – as always – modest and never distracting, but he maintained a tight grip on the accompaniment, which was consistently sensitive. Of many striking details, the most effective was the pointing of the horns’ entry in the recapitulation, whose dotted rhythms were given precision and reminded me of a similar figure in the finale of Fidelio.
A flat major slow movements in Beethoven always carry a special warmth – think of that of the First Piano Concerto – and the Largo of the Triple Concerto is no exception. The cello melody was a bit shaky at first, but the entry of the other soloists seemed to stimulate Hugh into a more expansive performance. And the final movement was remarkable, Nikolitch dragging each note from the depths of his soul and encouraging his colleagues to do the same.
I was disappointed by the first movement of the Pastoral Symphony, which seemed to lack the glow and sunshine that is inherent in the fabric of this music. The coordination of the two violin groups at the opening was askew, and there was such a lack of grace in the strings’ rather bland phrasing that I failed to experience Beethoven’s ‘awakening of happy sentiments on entering the countryside’.
Thankfully, By the Brook had far more of the fluid surge that the music requires. Haitink ensured that the inner string parts could be heard with ease, showing the composer’s complex textural creation, and the emulation of birdsong by oboe, clarinet and flute, was terrific.
The Happy Gathering of Villagers in the third movement was on the quick side, causing a moment of imprecision in the exposition, but the ‘B’ section had an attractive sway and the return to the opening section was more secure. The storm was terrifying in this rendition, with the turbulence of the tremolandi and the eeriness of the diminished seventh chords conveying the story with vividness.
Finally, to the Shepherd’s Song, the perfect lullaby with which to conclude. I enjoyed the controlled build-up of material as the main theme passed seamlessly between the first and second violins and on to the brass. It was another stirring ending to another pair of unusual interpretations of Beethoven’s masterpieces, and the continuation of the series in April is not to be missed.