LSO/Haitink, Barbican, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Single-composer concerts often work well. There's a clarity of purpose and style that firmly anchors the event. With the LSO, it seems to be the favoured mode now: Gergiev with Shostakovich, Tilson Thomas with Tchaikovsky, and now Bernard Haitink with Beethoven.

There's going to be a lot of Beethoven in LSO planning between now and June next year - indeed, virtually all his major orchestral and choral works. Haitink is conducting all the symphonies, in the LSO's first Beethoven symphonies cycle for 21 years.

A hesitant, uneasily synchronised Leonora No 2 began the proceedings. This was Beethoven's first attempt - of four - to write an overture for his only opera. Although it begins mysteriously, in pensive mood, evoking the darkness and cruelty of the prison, by introducing the off-stage trumpets (triumph and exultation), Beethoven gave the game away - and robbed himself of an awesome dramatic moment. No wonder he abandoned it.

The LSO wind at the beginning of Beethoven's Violin Concerto was breathtaking, not only in its secure tuning but in its exquisite shaping of its opening phrase. And in Frank Peter Zimmermann, as soloist, there was beauty of sound to match but not an equal sensitivity to phrasing.

Haitink set a brisk tempo, which led to somewhat matter-of-fact performing from Zimmermann, strong, but unmoving. Rubato is not a feature of his playing, and in the slow movement - taken quite briskly - the feeling was "studied", as opposed to "free". And there was little sense of empathy between Zimmermann and Haitink. In the final movement, Haitink again adopted a brisk tempo, but the spirit was driven rather than joyful.

Beethoven's Seventh Symphony was also marked by brisk tempi and, in both the first and last movement, imprecise detail. Time and again, Haitink failed to build phrases, undermining their shape by wayward dynamic support. The slow movement is marked "Allegretto", but at this pace, stateliness was severely curtailed. "Excitement, sorrow, exultation, nobility, humour" are the suggested watchwords. But "audacity"?

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