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