Classical Music: Psyching up for a performance to remember

Weber, Dvorak, Beethoven, LPO/Norrington Royal Festival hall, London
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The Independent Culture
HAVE YOU noticed how individual soloists employ different "psyching up" techniques for their first entries in big orchestral concertos? Sunday night's Royal Festival Hall Presentation of Dvorak's Cello Concerto with Heinrich Schiff was typically revealing. Schiff, himself a conductor, sat by while a bespectacled Sir Roger Norrington cued a lean, swift-moving orchestral introduction from the London Philharmonic. Schiff would close his eyes as the melodies soared, cast a glance in the leader's direction, then mimic the orchestra's cello part with his left hand. He was "right in there", living the work to its last demisemiquaver, so that by the time his big moment arrived, he was prepared.

Schiff's tone is strong, husky and unremittingly intense, though he can whittle it down to a soft tenor, as he did for the heart-rending reprise of the big tune where cello and flute share the music between them. Elsewhere, he'd thrust his bow like a butcher carving steak. It was fine playing, only occasionally troubled by a tendency to play sharp.

A nod towards the rostrum signalled the second movement, a passionate yet inward reading, with supple solo phrasing and powerful interjections from the orchestra. The finale launched to an upbeat tempo, buoyant and pointed, while a tender oboe solo set up the lyrical middle section. Schiff made an eloquent statement of the Concerto's closing pages, soaring like a bird on a high trill, then descending before rising on one of the most defiant solo crescendos in the entire repertoire. The concert opened with a vigorous reading of Weber's Oberon Overture, notable principally for Norrington's phrasing of the coy little woodwind figuration that scurries past during the quiet introduction, and for some powerful horns later on. Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, on the other hand, was a riot of a performance, and totally convincing save for some unusual crescendi and diminuendi. And we were served every repeat intact, bar the big one in the finale. We also enjoyed a classical orchestral layout, with divided violin desks and an impressive show of double-basses ranged across the rear of the stage. The horns raged triumphant; tempos were mostly very fast; the first movement's six-eight vivace exhibited tremendous rhythmic vitality, and the hectic race home was most emphatically "con brio". A performance to remember.