While it may have been Prom 60 that hit the headlines for constituting Bernard Haitink’s final concert ever in the United Kingdom, the one that followed also featured the same world class orchestra in the shape of the Vienna Philharmonic.
With Haitink’s farewell proving to be so emotive, the risk was that the players subsequently let their guard down in the absence of feeling they were part of such a monumental occasion. In the event, however, the same brilliance of sound, which combined velvety smoothness with the right levels of power, bite, refinement or intrigue as the occasion demanded, came to the fore in the orchestra’s second Prom, under the baton of Andrés Orozco-Estrada.
Such attributes were most obvious in the second half’s performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, ‘From the New World’ (1893), in which the first movement, in particular, saw the boldness and thrill of the famous brass motif offset by the strength of the phrasing. This, in turn, contrasted beautifully with the sensitivity of some of the string lines. The Largo was also wonderfully expressive, and if the third movement maintained the overall balance of the performance without advancing the piece quite as much as would have been ideal, the Allegro con fuoco made up for this as the tone of its own central motif became increasingly brooding and haunting as the performance worked towards its thrilling conclusion.
Leonidas Kavakos was the soloist for Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D major (1945) and produced playing of such copybook perfection that it could have been put straight onto a CD. He took a relatively introverted approach to the piece, and this really helped to draw the audience in, making the Albert Hall feel a far more intimate place than it actually is. The detail and nuance to be found in his sound proved quite staggering, and he achieved a level of expressiveness that felt appropriate since it never saw the piece feel overly sentimental or mawkish. The variation in his sound throughout was also exceptional, as the central section of the second movement possessed a different tinge to its surrounding parts, while, in keeping with its far greater exuberance, the Finale saw him ‘dole out’ the panache.
The evening began with a very smooth and accomplished performance of Dvořák’s symphonic poem The Noonday Witch (1896). Unfortunately, it had to be stopped after the first three notes because of a disturbance from a mobile phone. The incident was not the orchestra’s fault, and was soon forgotten, but it was good that it had not occurred twenty-four hours earlier so that Haitink’s farewell was not dominated by talk of this ‘false start’. The evening also featured two encores with Kavakos ending the first half by performing an arrangement for violin of Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, which revealed his playing at its most intricate. The symphony in turn was followed by Josef Strauss’ polka-schnell Ohne Sorgen! in which the orchestra laughed as required, and the audience, on the invitation of Orozco-Estrada, clapped – and largely in the right places!