Opera + Classical Music Reviews

RPO/Gatti @ Royal Festival Hall, London

18 March 2009

Finality may have been the overarching theme of this concert but it went with more of a bang than a whimper.

Southbank Centre

Royal Festival Hall (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

The RPO gave thrilling performances of Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 and Beethoven’s 9th, both written towards the end of their composers’ lives, under the baton of their outgoing Music Director Daniele Gatti.

Mozart’s so-called Jupiter Symphony, written with astonishing speed in 1788, served well as the opening piece, its air of lofty grandeur seeming to pre-empt the mysticism and monumentality of its pendent in this programme. Gatti commanded an interpretation that was ardent and finely nuanced the brief repose of sighing strings in the Andante cantabile’ was nicely distinct from the surrounding pomp without being overly indulgent.

For Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony the RPO had expert support. A fine contribution from the four soloists, Joan Rogers, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Andrew Kennedy and David Wilson-Johnson (the male voices perhaps just outshining the female) was augmented by the sure forces of the London Symphony Chorus.

While these two pieces may be linked, as here, by circumstances of composition, there are profound and even shocking differences revealed by their juxtaposition. Written just 36 years after Mozart’s Jupiter, Beethoven’s Ninth shows a complete disregard for the traditional symphony structure, and its vast scale and vocal element here appeared to directly undermine Mozart’s classical order.

Gatti’s account was brisk in tempo, thrilling and wild there were moments in the finale when dynamics and sheer volume seemed close to the point of derailing but was all the more exciting for it.

However the concert’s success came in spite of distractions: audience members, apparently intent on contributing something of their own to the finality theme, greeted each pause with such an onslaught of coughing I had the impression I was sharing the Royal Festival Hall with a (for want of a collective noun) pandemonium of consumptives.

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