Opera + Classical Music Reviews

OAE/Jurowski @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

28 January 2010

It’s not every day an orchestra of the calibre of the OAE embarks upon a cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies in fact it’s been a decade since their last one.If this opening concert of the 4th and 7th is anything to go by then we’re in for the musical event of the year.Under Vladimir Jurowski, making his debut with the orchestra, both symphonies came across newly-minted giving us an idea of what it must have been like to hear these works as they were first performed.

From the tantalisingly drawn out opening of the 4th, meticulously and atmospherically played by the members of the OAE, it was clear that this was going to be a memorable account of this often-maligned symphony. On the basis of this reading it’s hard to fathom why the 4th is generally regarded as the poor relation to the remainder of Beethoven’s symphonic output.

After the introduction, the Allegro vivace has tremendous guts and drive, sounding properly brash and abrasive and played with consummate ease by the orchestra on their period instruments. The contributions from the horns, trumpets and timpani were particularly telling.

Jurowski shaped the entire symphony lovingly but I would have liked more headlong thrust in the third and fourth movements it was almost as though he had his foot on the brake, when he should have been pressing on the accelerator, but at least we were spared the hideous overblown schmaltz that Karajan and Furtwngler used to bring to these works.

After the interval we were treated to a glorious account of the 7th, buoyant strings, rasping brass and some wonderfully evocative woodwind playing ensured that this work more than lived up to Wagner’s maxim that it was ‘the apotheosis of the dance’. Jurowski and the players brilliantly captured the feeling of spontaneity that is evident in every bar and the notes seemed to fly off the page. I felt that he could have allowed himself to put his foot down a shade more in the last movement but this was a small gripe given the overall magnificence of the performance.

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