Clarity and Transparency in Thierry Fischer’s Reading of Beethoven’s Pastoral

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven: Peter Wispelwey (cello), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Thierry Fischer (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 22.10.2011 (SRT)

Mozart: Symphony No. 1
Haydn: Cello Concerto in D
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”

Cuts or no cuts, the SCO have done a great job of assembling some top-notch guest conductors and soloists for their 2011-12 season. Thierry Fischer is their first guest conductor of the season, and what a welcome guest he is. His years in Wales have shown him to be a musician of the highest intelligence, and he brought this to bear on the eight year old Mozart’s first symphony, his skilful shading of the dynamics ensuring that the repetitions never sounded repetitious. The Andante carried the feel of a tragic aria, while the final Presto rollicked along as if cut from the same cloth as Beethoven’s jolly peasant dance.

Peter Wispelwey, of whom I am normally a huge fan, seemed clinical and detached by contrast. In his playing of the Haydn concerto he was too keen to paddle his own canoe, often seeming to play against the orchestra rather than with them. In the first movement especially his intentionally idiosyncratic playing sometimes found him ahead of the beat, often playing aggressively with a self-conscious leaning into the note. He relaxed a little in the slow movement and there was some fun towards the end of the third, but on the whole I found this a largely unsmiling performance which didn’t tap into Haydn’s good humour or wit.

Thankfully there was plenty of goodness on display in Fischer’s reading of the Pastoral. He conjured up a big sound from the small orchestra but found transparency in the inner textures with remarkable clarity from the winds. It was a fairly driven performance but was intelligent enough to hold something back so that the entry of the brass and timpani in the storm was truly hair-raising. The whole evening was crowned with a glorious account of the Shepherds’ Hymn, expansive and soulful with playing of utter conviction and assured control from the podium.

Simon Thompson