Kurt Masur Inspires the Philharmonia to Top Form

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mendelssohn, Bruckner: Arabella Steinbacher (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra, Kurt Masur (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, London. 2. 2. 2012 (CC)

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64
Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E

On the evidence of this concert, there seems little doubt that the Philharmonia Orchestra adores Kurt Masur. This was the Philharmonia on top form, from the grand heights of the Bruckner through to the gossamer textures of the Mendelssohn.

available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.7,
K.Masur / NPh

First, the concerto, conducted impeccably from memory (as was the Bruckner, it turned out) by Masur. The flowing tempi and the general feeling of orchestral restraint lent the reading an intimate feel. In fact there seemed to be a feeling of longing through the first and second movements. The central Andante showcased Steinbacher’s radiant tone (the first found her and Masur working absolutely as one towards their conception). Only the finale contained traces of the literal (from Steinbacher); in contrast, the Midsummer Night’s Dream Philharmonia woodwind hit the work’s ethos full on.

There was no indication as to what edition of the Bruckner was used, but the absence of a crass cymbal crash – in fact any added percussion – at the climax of the slow movement does rather point towards Haas. This was a tremendous performance (greeted with a few seconds of silence after the final peroration, surely a testament as to the stature of the event). The young principal horn, Katy Wooley, is new to me but she played as if she had years of experience, the tricky doubling of the lower string arpeggio seamlessly negotiated. It should be noted though that occasionally during the performance her solos could be slightly faceless. Masur projected a sure sense of flow to the first movement, while retaining the debt this music has to organ music (the different orchestral sections appearing like different organ stops on occasion).

The flowing tempi of the slow movement seemed perfectly in harmony with Masur’s deeply felt, affectionate reading. Textures were lovingly delineated, and the quartet of Wagner tubas made a simply glorious sound. The completely silent audience seemed drawn in by the terrific concentration emanating from the stage; the Philharmonia strings provided their most beautifully sonorous tone (rarely have I heard them play this beautifully). The Scherzo found Masur revealing the magic of Bruckner’s scoring, while the finale, taken at a positively sprightly pace, included perfectly judged silences as an integral part of the ongoing musical argument. The build-up to the final bars was perfectly judged. An outstanding performance.

Colin Clarke