LPO / Masur / Gutman, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

In anniversary terms, Schumann has been the loser this year. Mozart and Shostakovich have won hands down. So, great praise for the London Philharmonic Orchestra for programming an entire concert of Schumann's work, recognising - if any recognition were necessary - the 150th anniversary of his death.

Schumann's orchestral music has sometimes been regarded as inferior to his songwriting and chamber music but after a concert like this, the observation seems mighty dubious. As a taster, Kurt Masur - visibly thinner and frailer - coaxed out the warmest of string sound in the brooding, slow, improvisatory opening of the overture to Schumann's only opera, Genoveva, while the horns produced a strikingly open, almost raw sound.

It is scarcely believable that the great Russian cellist Natalia Gutman has not performed a concerto in London for 15 years. But over a decade ago, she recorded the Schumann concerto with Masur and the London Philharmonic. Gutman and Masur make an ideal pair; not for either of them is there a hint of showiness, and, mercifully, neither is remotely "a babe".

After initial hesitation, Gutman took the heart- breaking opening theme slower than Masur had first indicated, broadly spreading her luscious, coppery tone. She has the most remarkable bow-arm, bearing down on the string with tremendous weight but always achieving absolute clarity of articulation.

In the opening movement she used scarcely any portamenti despite emphasising the darkness and tragedy of the piece. As if the slow movement could yield any more magic, she found it, the intensity of her lyrical sound breathtaking, the fullness of her double-stopped chords, on another level. But in the final movement passion, albeit restrained, took over. Gutman's colouring was a lesson in how to play this wistful, enigmatic music.

In Schumann's 2nd Symphony, Masur captured Schumann's aping of Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Never allowing the piece to sag, he observed the many sforzati, bows and fingers flying in the second and final movements, sheer balm delivered in the third.