Classical music: Orchestral wrongs don't make a Rite

Vienna Philharmonic / Kronos Quartet Royal Festival Hall, London

Vienna Philharmonic / Kronos Quartet

Royal Festival Hall, London

Vienna's greatest orchestra showed definite signs of tiredness at the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday night when Seiji Ozawa cued a fat-toned but faceless account of Brahms's First Symphony. Ozawa has, in the past, displayed many virtues, not least an impressive technique and a balletic sense of rhythm; but Thursday's offering was more an accompanied mime- act than a genuine performance, with extravagant rostrum gestures that yielded virtually nothing in the way of colour or musical character. The first movement trudged an uneventful course; the Andante sostenuto delivered bland solos via a velvet-toned conveyor-belt and the finale briefly came into its own only for those accelerating pizzicatos that dominate the first few pages. The players themselves looked thoroughly bored.

Stravinsky's Rite of Spring added insult to injury with botched notes and conspicuous lapses in ensemble, especially around the opening of "The Adoration of the Earth". OK, the first pages of "The Sacrifice" enjoyed some savoury textures, and snorting tubas towards the end of the piece suggested primeval forces at work; but nothing danced; there was no lift to the rhythm, and absolutely no sense of fantasy - just deafening volleys of sound. Beyond The Rite, we were offered a couple of short encores: Stravinsky's Circus Polka (heavy and humourless) and Josef Strauss's "quick polka" Auf Ferienreisen. It goes without saying that, in performing terms at least, Strauss triumphed over Stravinsky; but with five Rites and Brahms Ones to tackle in just six days, it's no wonder that they were happy to rest on their laurels. Such are the hazards of touring.

I had rather looked forward to comparing Ozawa's Rite on Thursday with a slimmed-down version played by Kronos on Sunday, but Stravinsky's estate and principal publisher refused permission for the arrangement to be performed. This, I suppose, is their legal right, although Stravinsky himself didn't object to "arranging" Tchaikovsky, Pergolesi and Bach. As it happens, a thematic connection between the two concerts already existed in that Bartk's 1927 Third String Quartet caused roughly the sort of critical shock-waves that The Rite had sent reeling through music circles some 14 years earlier. Short but definitely not sweet, Bartk Three opens among mysterious spectres and closes to stamping rhythms and dive-bombing cello glissandos.

Perhaps Kronos intended that Bartk should sound as natural as Hungarian folk music, but the Third Quartet needs to communicate more forcefully than it did on Sunday night. The rest of the programme - the last in Kronos's current Festival - spanned the nations with anarchic Phan (Vietnam), hypnotic El Din (Egypt), earthy Jack Body (Bulgaria), seductive Parades (Portugal), abrasive Piazzola (Argentina) and a dreamy folk-song arrangement by the Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov. It was an extraordinary musical buffet, but the best was still to come. After the interval, Kronos took a temporary break and the stage became a Romanian village square where the Motley crew of Taraf de Haidouks sung, shouted and played their hearts out. If there were fiddlers, flautists or accordionists in the audience, they will certainly have learned a thing or two. Cymbalum player Ionaca kept up the pace for three solid hours (he's probably still at it), and when Kronos joined in for the last two numbers, it was plainly just for the ride.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

    Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

    £45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

    Day In a Page

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin