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S & H Concert Review

Hartmann, Beethoven, Stravinsky Leonidas Kavakos (violin); Steven Isserlis (cello); Stephen Hough (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/Ingo Metzmacher. Barbican Hall. Wednesday December 19th, 2001 (CC).


The clear thread that spanned this concert was the relationship between Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Fifth Symphony and Stravinsky (both in general and, in particular, with the Rite of Spring). Hartmann wrote his Fifth Symphony in 1950 (the full title is Sinfonia concertante: Symphony No. 5). Its ‘family tree’ may be traced back to Hartmann’s Concerto for Trumpet and Wind (1933), itself revised in 1949 as Concerto for Wind Ensemble, Double bass and two Solo Trumpets. Inevitably, then, solo instrumental writing comes to the fore.

This certainly felt as if it was a fully rehearsed account. The figure of Neo-Classical Stravinsky does indeed loom large in the Fifth Symphony, so it was apt that accents should be finely honed (mirrored in Metzmacher’s clear but expressive beat). The material of the second movement, ‘Melodie’, is derived from the opening bassoon solo of the Rite; the third movement calls upon the Stravinsky of Petrushka. Metzmacher imbued the latter with a light, sometimes almost comic, touch. His recording of this piece, with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, is available on EMI CDC5 56184-2.

It was particularly gratifying to note that the programme included a link to MusicWeb’s own article on Hartmann by David Wright).

A rare opportunity to hear Beethoven’s Triple Concerto separated the Hartmann from the Stravinsky. If the orchestra in this piece has a decidedly subservient role to play, Metzmacher made the most of what he was given: the orchestra provided loving support for the three soloists. Steven Isserlis was the star who shone the brightest. He was by far the most expressive soloist, playing with a bright, clear tone (his intonation in faster passages was beyond criticism). Stephen Hough rose to Isserlis’ heights in the finale (the end was saturated in high spirits), but seemed to have some trouble finding his feet in the first movement. Leonidas Kavakos played with a thin tone and little subtlety. It was the burnished tone and sheer musicality of Isserlis that I shall take away with me.

The Rite of Spring has perhaps been an over-familiar guest in London’s concert halls of late. Metzmacher brought to it a refreshing clarity of thought and, for the most part, convincingly displayed Stravinsky’s musical processes. Here was a performance that was completely unafraid of the stark juxtapositions of Stravinsky’s score. Metzmacher was almost as loud as Rattle in his performances (not quite, though), and the aggregates of sound in the ‘Dance of the earth’ which concludes the First Part were cripplingly intense. In fact, the First Part was by far the most impressive. Much detail which is usually lost was clearly audible and rhythmic vitality was consistently maintained.

The Second Part promised much: the chords of the Introduction being carved out of granite. Darker shades of Stravinsky’s persona were tellingly highlighted. The great shame of the evening was that the tension in the final ‘Sacrificial Dance’ sagged, a fact as surprising as it was disappointing.

A truly interesting concert, then, which was at the very least stimulating and at its best, revelatory.

Colin Clarke


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