Classical: Mime and magic

Royal Festival Hall Concerts London

ALTHOUGH BARELY a generation apart, Daniel Harding and Christian Thielemann symbolise the dichotomy between "objective" and "subjective" approaches to conducting. Harding, who led the London Philharmonic at the Royal Festival Hall last Tuesday night, describes his phrases with a veritable mime-show. In Brahms's Haydn Variations he favoured flowing surface lines and lively tempos - and it was nice to see first and second violins answer each other from opposite sides of the stage. Two nights later, Thielemann favoured the same layout.

Harding's lean interpretative style suited Mozart's Coronation Piano Concerto even better and there was the inestimable bonus of having Christian Zacharias as soloist. I can honestly say that in all my years of concert- going I have never heard a finer performance of a Mozart piano concerto, one where fantasy and finesse, virtuosity and musicality, and individualism tempered by scholarship have been more in evidence. Heard after Zacharias's exquisite Mozart, Harding's extrovert Also sprach Zarathustra seemed like an egoist bore sounding off, though the growling fugue that represents the vanity of science was impressive. It was an exciting performance, well played and thrilling at the halfway point where the "Sunrise" idea suddenly returns.

Christian Thielemann's Philharmonia Brahms's Fourth featured a full tonal palette and some excitable tempos. It was one of the freest, most individualistic performances that London audiences have heard in a long while. Where Harding mimes, Thielemann leaps skywards, then crouches to quieten his forces. Beyond the Symphony's catastrophic closing bars, he stormed from the rostrum red-faced, evidently ruffled by the confrontation - and with good reason. He had created a cauldron of sound, with surging string lines in the Andante moderato and ear-splitting brass in the finale. The buzz factor in the hall was virtually tangible. This was no run-of-the-mill maestro, but a formidable force with highly original ideas.

Like Harding, Thielemann had an excellent soloist for a centre-placed Mozart concerto, the Third for violin this time, where Christian Tetzlaff combined an intense vibrato with extraordinarily agile bowing. The concert had opened with something of a rarity, Schumann's pick-me-up concert piece for four horns and orchestra, where Michael Thompson, Laurence Davies, Robert McIntosh and James Handy sounded resplendent with a mere handful of split notes between them.

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