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.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 'Isis' schoolgirls: Missing British teenager tweets picture of her Syrian takeaway
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove