Israel Po / Mehta, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Police waited on the door, and reminders boomed out about looking after your bags. As they used to say in the ads, it could only be Israel - although we were, in fact, about to listen to Beethoven in London.

Police waited on the door, and reminders boomed out about looking after your bags. As they used to say in the ads, it could only be Israel - although we were, in fact, about to listen to Beethoven in London.

The Israel Philharmonic and Beethoven are practised bedfellows. Thirty years ago, the Philharmonic's partnership with Zubin Mehta made its name with high-voltage performances of the late Romantic repertoire. So this Beethoven had a continuity with the way he was played half a century ago, when Mehta soaked up Viennese styles as a student: large string sections, spacious, straightforward shaping and a serious manner enlivened by an apparently total awareness of internal detail. But it was given distinction by Mehta's own inimitable touches.

With many conductors, the personal touch is in some sense an overlay. But Mehta produces an energy of articulation that can fine-tune the excitement without having to speed, or be over-emphatic, or to cosset phrases. There is a security of ensemble within which invigorating details easily take their place. In the introduction to the Violin Concerto, and several times during the opening movement of the Seventh Symphony, you could notice some subsidiary line that you might not usually be aware of, not because it stood out but because it contributed to the larger symphonic process.

To take an obvious feature, the way the woodwind articulated that same movement's repeated rhythmic pattern - just enough air after the first sustained note - immediately gave a lift to the pulse of the music. Oddly, it didn't happen when the pattern transferred to the strings, and the middle of the movement came dangerously near to plodding. But the end made up for it with a superbly articulated bass line, relentless crescendo, and finally unbounded vigour. Nobody does codas like Mehta. The double-basses remained the stars of the orchestra's resplendent strings, hugely sonorous and incisive, and crucial in setting up the symphony's climaxes.

In the concerto, all string sections were reduced and the woodwind had more chance to shine. The soloist Nikolaj Znaider played with enormous dynamic range and, at least to start, more subtlety than a typical Juilliard product. It wasn't quite the same later, but the finale's central melody made an impact with more than usually heartfelt expression.

In encore, the Fledermaus overture was a gesture of inclusiveness, and the performance had as idiomatic a twinkle as you could want.

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