MUSIC / First time out
Tuesday 20 October 1992
Not so in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe's outstanding concert at the Barbican Centre on Saturday. The conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt did not reduce the symphony by treating it as merely a signpost to greater territories. Instead, he perceived it as a uniquely powerful and original extension of the 18th-century tradition.
For the time being we were led to think not of what came after this dynamic work of genius, only of what had preceded it, with the result that it sounded truly audacious, its use of the orchestra unprecedentedly sonorous, its symphonic manner boldly original.
The orchestra played quite splendidly throughout, generating the livliest of responses to Harnoncourt's undemonstrative yet charismatic direction. The brilliance with which the strings attacked the upward jetting semiquavers that sustain much of the finale's wit and fire was typical of that section's high character, while the wind and brass drew on the widest array of sonorities, whether projecting radiantly in the foreground or poetically supporting.
One of the most important outcomes of the authentic performance movement, with its concentration on the use of period instruments, will probably be seen to be its effect on the playing styles of ensembles outside the movement. When, as in the present instance, a conductor who has long been committed to authentic practice (if from a somewhat nonconformist stance) directs a modern orchestra, the result can be electrifying, combining the best of both worlds. And that is exactly what one felt about this stylish interpretation, as indeed about Marieke Blankestijn's fine performance of Haydn's Second Violin Concerto in which her pure, expressive line was marvellously supported by the orchestral strings.
This potent interpretative mix would seem to be perfectly suited to the performance of Schumann, whose symphonies do present problems if unthinkingly submitted to the potential of the modern symphony orchestra. On this occasion we heard the Rhenish Symphony, of all the canon the most in need of careful balancing, and significantly the most radically worked of Mahler's fascinating re-orchestrations.
Harnoncourt and his players gave us a well nigh ideal performance. The suite-like succession of genre pieces which makes up the central sequence of movements was delivered with exquisite delicacy of feeling. Textures which can sound a little clotted were clarified to perfection, so that the typical blend of wind and strings yielded shades of poetic meaning rather than a suspicion of miscalculation.
The finale, too, was superbly managed, racing to its touching final triumph with a full heart, and always rhythmically pointed and well sprung. Only in the majestic first movement were there a few doubts.
In keeping the sometimes heavily laden textures bouyant and clear, Harnoncourt sometimes lost some of Schumann's characteristic sostenuto - a difficult task indeed to strike a happy medium in this respect. But this was still a heart warming interpretation which drew a deserved ovation.
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 3 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Spectre: Director Sam Mendes teases clips from upcoming James Bond movie
Indian Summers recommissioned: Channel 4 confirm a second series of British Empire drama
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
The Casual Vacancy finale review: Superb cast, luscious cinematography - shame about the confused ending
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut