Benedetti / Elschenbroich / Eschenbach / LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London
Monday 07 November 2011
Brahms's Double Concerto in A minor for Violin and Cello was in its day a very unfashionable form, since concertos were expected to pit a lone soloist against the massed forces of an orchestra. But its intimate dialogue had a suitably intimate inspiration.
Brahms had fallen out, seemingly terminally, with his friend the violinist Joseph Joachim, and this work was a peace offering to him. But at the same time, it demanded that Joachim accommodate himself to a cellist – and the cello was an instrument with which Brahms deeply identified. As Brahms's muse Clara Schumann pointed out, this work put the men symbolically on speaking terms again.
No such symbolism applied to the pairing of violinist Nicola Benedetti and cellist Leonard Elschenbroich, since as part of a regular trio they are entirely at ease together on stage. Moreover, this work places the instruments in a relationship of absolute parity, with the cello getting the opening break with a solo which the young German turned into a noble statement of intent. Elschenbroich's sound had a burnished glow and radiated authority: when Benedetti made her entry, she came across as the junior partner.
The lyricism of this work is ravishing from start to finish, with stretches where the soloists not only converse but finish each other's lines, and the contrast between the instruments is brought out by emphasising the difference in their registers – which means the violin flies very high. After her retraining in Vienna, Benedetti's playing has become very sweet and accurate, but her sound was pinched and careful when she rose into the stratosphere: she now needs to play "out" more, to project every note in even the fastest passage-work. But the so-called love duet in the andante had the right sort of tenderness, and in the last movement the pair found an exhilarating synergy.
If there were times in this work when Christoph Eschenbach's conducting of the London Philharmonic verged on the perfunctory, he amply redeemed himself with Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, letting this majestic work unfold organically, and delineating its vast contours with assurance. Although this was quintessential Bruckner, Wagner's spirit permeated not just in the adagio which Bruckner had written as an elegy for his musical hero, but also much of the playing: I have never heard the LPO's brass sound so ringingly Wagnerian.
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