MUSIC / Sophisticates and primitives: Anthony Payne on the Berlin Philharmonic and Indianapolis Symphony in London.

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The Independent Culture
AT THE unlikely hour of half past ten in the morning, the Berlin Philharmonic under Bernard Haitink electrified a capacity Albert Hall audience on Saturday. Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Stravinsky all drew playing of stylistic awareness, joyous communicability and transcendental technique, and the glorious sound that marks this orchestra constantly astonished the ear, whether applied to the nocturnal warmth of a Mozart adagio or the hard- edged, trampling polyrhythms of The Rite of Spring.

From the outset the orchestra summoned the commitment to weld together its multi- faceted virtuosity and musicianship, and we heard an interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet to wonder at. Tautly geared to the music's concentrated structure and responsive to the emotion of its programmatic incidents, it allowed Tchaikovsky's orchestral invention to bloom luxuriantly within a commanding symphonic dialectic.

Avoiding the pitfall that has trapped some orchestras into producing a starved sound in the hall's vast acoustic, the Berliners made only discreet cuts in their string section for Mozart's Third Violin Concerto, and generated a full yet never overblown sonority. This was a thoroughly traditional performance, but with Frank Peter Zimmermann playing like an angel, alive to Mozart's wit and gallantry, and the orchestra providing buoyant support, we were reminded that there is more than one way of playing 18th-century music.

Augmented by the huge batch of additional instruments required for The Rite, the orchestra continued to display a miraculous inner awareness of texture. In even the most complex tuttis it was as if a corporate ear of chamber music-like sensitivity was in control. Given players that listened as acutely as they play, Haitink was able to instil into Stravinsky's eruptive and iconoclastic rhythms a precision one rarely hears in the concert hall, while those moments of primeval mystery that allow the rhythmic bow to be drawn were characterised with startling immediacy.

A little over 12 hours earlier yet another distinguished international orchesta had paid a flying visit as part of its European tour. The Indianapolis Symphony under Raymond Leppard brought a similarly wide ranging programme to the Barbican Centre, paying a gracious tribute to their hosts with a warm-hearted interpretation of Elgar's Enigma Variations, and reflecting native culture with William Schuman's New England Triptych, a sinewy and ebullient example of the modern American mainstream. The only disappointment was an indifferent performance of Bruch's First Violin Concerto, disadvantaged by lifeless tempos and an uninvolved if technically efficient soloist in Dmitry Sitkovetsky.

Paying homage to the 18th- century American 'primitive' composer William Billings, Schuman reflects on some of his rugged inventions and produces in New England Triptych a work that brings alive the resonances of pioneer thought and feeling. Its endearing vigour and straight talking were wholeheartedly rendered by the orchestra, as were the alternating moments of exuberance and tender inwardness in the Elgar. Leppard could have done more to encourage his orchestra to phrase with a flexibility of rubato to match the subtlety of Elgar's timbral shading, but by the close they had entered thoroughly into the spirit of the work's private and public statements, and signed off impressively with the composer's self-portrait.

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