The centenary of Carl Nielsen’s birth is being commemorated in London by both the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia with performances of his six symphonies. The Philharmonia cycle, under the baton of Paavo Järvi, pairs each Nielsen symphony with one by Haydn. This concert also featured Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5.
Haydn’s Symphony No 88, composed in 1887, is one of the five that falls between the earlier Paris symphonies and the concluding London ones. Its typically Haydnesque character, invention and energy were adroitly communicated in Järvi’s interpretation. Other than a slightly reduced string section and timpani played with hard sticks, this was a standard modern instrument performance, but the crisp articulation, exemplary balance and antiphonal violin placement helped bring a sense of airiness and vibrancy to the proceedings. The playing of the solo cello in the slow movement was sublime and the finale was exhilarating and exciting.
Martin Helmchen was the soloist in an exceptionally fresh and communicative performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. Mastery of both the heroic and lyric elements of Beethoven’s writing was on offer here, as was pianism of precision and delicacy. Järvi’s accompaniment was similarly impressive, the playing imbued with rapture as well as grandeur and lyricism.
The concluding performance of Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony was outstanding, brimming with character and energy from the start. Järvi’s conducting was vigorous and insightful, conveying the both work’s inherent dissonance and melancholy as well as its vibrancy and life affirming joyousness. The confrontation between the antiphonally placed sets of timpani in the finale was the finest I’ve heard, almost feral in its power. The symphony’s triumphant closing section was thrilling, the orchestral playing ablaze with intensity. It was a privilege to have heard this concert.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk.