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Debussy, Szymanowski & Scriabin

Debussy Trois Nocturnes; Szymanowski Violin Concerto No.1; Scriabin Le Poème de l'extase.

Christian Tetzlaff (violin) London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Eötvös

Barbican Hall, London Sunday, April 29, 2012

Deputising for Pierre Boulez, who has eye trouble, Peter Eötvös also conducts without baton, suitable for this programme of high romanticism; the lushness of all three works played together a little too much for me.

The Debussy sounded a little pallid at first but caught fire in Fêtes, the second of the Nocturnes; but 32 female singers for the last movement seemed excessive. They have little to do but to enhance the atmosphere wordlessly, and I have always thought Sirènes the least persuasive of the tryptich; similar reactions recently to the two-piano version given with just three singers to augment the Rogé Duo's performance at Kings Place.

I found the Szymanowski concerto less persuasive than in the past, Tetzlaff's tone sounding a little dry against the huge orchestra (better in the renowned recording of this Violin Concerto with his Symphony no 3 with Boulez). Most effective was the full-blooded account of Scriabin's unapologetic and ultimately exhausting vision of Ecstacy with its repeated climaxes featuring a braying trumpet leading to the inevitable ovation for all concerned.

Eötvös' second concert with Tetzlaff (8 May) promises more durable fare with Bartok and the rarely heard Szymanowski 3rd symphony.

Peter Grahame Woolf


Bartok & Szymanowski

BARTÓK Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste; Violin Concerto No 2 SZYMANOWSKI Symphony No 3 (‘Song of the Night’)

London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Peter Eötvös
Nikolaj Znaider violin Steve Davislim tenor

Barbican Hall, London 8 May 2012

This (at least until the last ten minutes or so) was a concert of a lifetime, with an account of Bartok's 1st Violin Concerto which was one of the very greatest performances of any concerto which I have been privileged to attend over a long listening life.

Others that come to mind are Ginette Neveu's Sibelius in the BBC Maida Vale studio and a stupendous morning concert with Gilels and Oistrakh allowed out of Soviet Russia, conducted by Norman del Mar at the then newish Royal Festival Hall... I think I first heard the Bartok on our radiogram, broadcast by Menuhin, and found it difficult listening - as it probably was for him to play... When might that have been? (After Neveu's death in a plane crash Yehudi Menuhin determined never to fly again; did he keep that up?)

I am not persuaded by this pair of concerts that Bartok & Szymanowski make good bedfellows. The Song of the Night made a splendid sound, with its climaxes as loud as any I'd heard at The Barbican, with tenor Steve Davislim and the large LSO Chorus acquitting themselves well; but it went on too long, with diminshing returns. I prefer by far the later, sparer Szymanowski - including the little-known Children's Songs which I am proud to have produced in LP days what is still their best recording...

The first half of Eötvös' long programme was devoted to the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, gorgeous music given an excellent performance; but it must take the palm for the silliest title in classical music? One could not see the celeste on the platform; it contributed colour occasionally, but some newcomers to the work must have been distracted by seeking it out and awaiting its appearances; surely Bartok didn't really intend that to be its concert programming title?

Nikolaj Znaider was astonishing in the great violin concerto; standing tall and with a full tone to match from his “Kreisler” Guarnerius del Gesù 1741; the contrast with Tetzlaff in Szymanowski last week was striking. Znaider had his music on a stand down at knee level but I'm sure he didn't really need it (so many musicians have music stands high, unthinkingly blocking audience sight-lines).

Eötvös brought out Bartok's mastery of orchestral balance, which was perfect whether the violin was playing loud or at the most delicate pianissimo. This was totally magical and the completely silent audience enhanced the occasion.

The concert was broadcast live and is available on BBC iPlayer, sensitively balanced by the BBC engineers who respected the balance in the Hall itself; perhaps this concert will also find its way onto the LSOLive label?

Peter Grahame Woolf