First Night: Abbado cues in a monster to remember
Saturday 29 August 1998
ROYAL ALBERT HALL
THERE WERE no holds barred, and absolutely no compromises, when Claudio Ab- bado cued Wolfgang Rihm's In-Schrift at last night's promenade concert.
Needless to say the Berlin Philharmonic made some memorably refined sounds, but Rihm's hyperactive score - bolstered at one stage by an audibly vocal member of the audience - kept Abbado's baton constantly on the alert. Composed for performance at St Mark's in Venice, In-Schrift features growling tuba solos that suggested to this listener a malevolent monster of St Mark's.
Three jittering flutes set things in motion, and from then on it was aural combat all the way with the percussion sounding like a maniacal team of Buddy Riches. Rihm's intention was to "outwit" the St Mark's echo by "giving the music a simple harmonic basis", and he certainly succeeded with the notoriously unobliging Royal Albert Hall acoustics.
Fortunately, Schumann's Piano Concerto poses no such problems. Abbado's soloist was the diminutive but pianistically athletic Maria Joao Pires, and you could tell that he agreed with her interpretation every note of the way. The opening orchestral call to arms met with the gentlest of solo responses, whereas the passage-work that followed was supple and lightly brushed. The Berlin players seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, while Pires's doll-like frame worked flat-out to project a tone that was never for a moment hard, brittle or over-emphatic.
The cadenza was orderly, almost classical in profile and the wistful Intermezzo breezed in on the heels of the first movement almost without a break. Again, the music breathed and blossomed with Abbado in careful attendance, always ahead of the beat. Only the finale seemed to me a little reluctant to dance, though the closing pages were nimbly dispatched. Needless to say, Pires earned a hearty ovation.
Brahms occupied the concert's second half, his Third Symphony a work that Abbado habitually plays with a sure sense of structure. The opening chords built to a fine crescendo and the strings soared in their wake.
Though not always immaculate, it was above all a performance that moved beauti- fully. Could Karajan have done better? Not on your life.
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