Beethoven's orchestral music may have been "reclaimed" by the period-instrument bands, but I have to admit to a penchant for hearing the politically incorrect, but oh-so-satisfying, sound of the "modern" symphony orchestra. The RPO is nearing the end of its Beethoven cycle of symphonies and piano concertos. Its young music director, Daniele Gatti, and even younger soloist, Freddy Kempf, have made a sympathetic pair. A Beethoven overture has been thrown in to provide openers to three of the six concerts in the cycle, and Coriolan began Sunday's. What an extraordinary piece this is, not specifically designed for any production, but full of passion and drama. And treacherous it is too for the performers and conductor. Both this and the Emperor Concerto that followed are full of orchestral "thumps", but time and again "thumps" became "carrumphs"; like the weather outside it felt a little soggy. Many cheers, however, for the decision to field as many double-basses as cellos, so providing a marvellously solid bottom in the dodgy RFH acoustic.
The Emperor is the grandest of concertos. It is a cliche to comment on how "modern" Beethoven continues to sound, but in starting with a cadenza, history was being made. Freddy Kempf stormed into his opening flourishes yet almost instantly revealed so much more than a wonderfully assured technique. The merest hint of lingering, subtly pointing the shape of the phrase, immediately announces his rare, expressive talent.
Kempf's opening phrase of the second movement seemed to go on forever, tender and focused. The third movement was charmingly poised, Kempf's sense of forward motion propelling the episodes but allowing him to leap out like a caged cat at the returns of the Rondo theme. The audience adored it, roaring their applause.
The concert ended with Beethoven's 4th Symphony, Gatti drawing out drama from every nook and cranny. Superb playing came from the RPO's principal flute and clarinet, while the strings were obliged to scrub for their lives in the final (very fast) Allegro.Reuse content