Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Chailly, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

The number of young faces in the world's oldest orchestra symbolise a new lease of life for the Leipzig Gewandhaus under the inspiring Riccardo Chailly.

The explosion of untempered exuberance which characterised the opening of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony was both unexpected and more than a little impetuous but the tiny "throw away" diminuendo at the end of the first phrase spoke volumes for the elegance of a bygone age.



The Leipzig orchestra can do that: it can turn and dovetail phrases so discreetly that not only don't you know it's happening until it does but you have no idea of just how difficult it is. Chailly's performance of Beethoven's Eighth was full of such touches but full, too, of an unbridled energy. In the quirky third movement, the bucolic scherzo elements were offset by trumpets so bright that country dancing and courtly manners seemed almost compatible.



Then it was the great Ninth, the "Choral" – and as the gritty allegro of the first movement took hold it was plain something momentous was this way coming. The fugal development cleaved the rock-face of the movement with shuddering trumpet and timpani exclamations and a climax like a massive fission appearing in the structure. The seismic scherzo, and a brilliant timpanist, more than ever suggested an exhaustive dance of death while the flow of variations in the slow movement (much beautiful detailing and effortless phrasing here) was like crossing to some mythical promised land. So, too, the first appearance of the "Ode to Joy" so soft, so almost intangible, that it seemed to be breaking through from a better place. An uplifting experience in defiance of the doom and gloom predicted for 2009.

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