I don’t have a hot line to Beethoven, but I have the feeling he would have been in two minds about last Friday’s performance of his Choral Symphony under Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
Undoubtedly he would have admired the crack playing of the London Symphony Orchestra, brass well-focussed, woodwind tumbling over each other in their glittering eloquence, timpani with the gift of holding our attention with the quietest of rhythmic articulation in the scherzo, and appropriately vibrato-less string sounds at the music’s cosmic opening.
But that last characteristic was the closest we got to rawness in Gardiner’s interpretation of a work where the composer had at last broken the bounds of everything (including his own preceding eight symphonies) that had gone before. Everything here was slick, streamlined in its honing, and communicating little of Beethoven’s vast elemental struggle to realise his vision.
The Monteverdi Choir sounded workaday, and, a serious fault, with individual voices obtruding. The “real” quartet of soloists was magnificent, particularly the stunning entry from bass Vuyani Mlinde, and soprano Rebecca Evans’ perennial radiance and intelligent communication.
Gardiner’s high-octane approach was better suited to the swagger of Beethoven’s new-kid-on-the-block First Symphony, defining it as Haydn with attitude, and with an easy balance here between strings and wind.
The discourteous behaviour of an outside-desk first violinist ignoring the audience applause, turning backwards instead to josh with his colleagues, did not deter the public at the very end of the evening from giving these London visitors an instanteous standing ovation.