PROMS Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra / Neville Marriner Royal Albert Hall, London / Radio 3

Early promenaders sheltering in the arena from last Thursday's downpours looked on happily as members of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra grappled with key passages from the evening's forthcoming programme. The lead cellist tackled The Mastersingers overture's spiralling sequences and the oboist toyed with fragments of Schumann's Piano Concerto as an aleatoric crescendo of sounds familiar and unfamiliar filled the hall. An hour later and Sir Neville Marriner sent Wagner's most contrapuntal overture on a comfortable course, slowing somewhat for the "Prize Song" episode but taking full advantage of the band's unique tonal properties, its solid though soft-grained violins, full-bodied lower strings (the basses are the best I've heard in concert), rich woodwinds (lots of vibrato and a pleasingly mellow texture) and sonorous brass - the horns sporting just a spot of East European-style vibrato. Anyone familiar with the Gewandhaus Orchestra's many recordings will instantly have recognised their mellifluous, mahogany sound. Patches of shaky ensemble notwithstanding, the Wagner performance was nicely centred, musically satisfying and just a little low in voltage.

Marriner's accompaniment for Alfred Brendel in Schumann's Piano Concerto seemed more like a comfortably upholstered "backing" than an active contribution to a musical dialogue. Brendel phrased the first subject with characteristic poise (holding the first note for just a split second longer than expected) then launched into some bold, cleanly articulated passage-work. True, there was the odd slip of the finger, but nothing significant enough to detract from what was essentially a cleanly focused - if occasionally somewhat monochrome - account of the solo part. The only absent ingredient was a certain sense of fantasy, a dreaming "Eusebius" to counter the more assertive "Florestan" (Schumann's mutually compensating "alter egos").

Brendel's approach to the last movement was relatively free, tempo-wise, though not so much as Marriner's in the first movement of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony after the interval, where speed changes were uncharacteristically (though not unhappily) conspicuous. Here, orchestra and composer suit each other to perfection, as well they might given that Leipzig was Mendelssohn's home town. Distinguishing features of the performance included light but never insubstantial textures, a firm delivery of the Adagio's processional climaxes and some incisive work from the timps.

Marriner played the first-movement repeat and cued fine solo work throughout, most notably from the woodwinds in the Scherzo and from the horns in the finale. The further he ventured into the score, the more involved he became, so that, by the time we reached the finale's expansive coda, the heat was full on. Audience response wasn't so much rapturous as sincerely appreciative, though for me, the highlight of the evening was the encore, a performance of the Andante from Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony - a "song without words" in all but name of such hushed intensity that it made me long for the same forces to treat us to an all-Mendelssohn programme. I can't think of any corpus of music that better suits either Sir Neville Marriner or the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Never mind. Next time, perhaps.

Robert Cowan

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