Cultivated Playing from Augustin Hadelich

AustriaAustria Haydn, Adès, and Mendelssohn: Augustin Hadelich (violin), Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich, Kazuki Yamada (conductor). Musikverein, Vienna, 24.11.2015 (MB)

Haydn – Violin Concerto in C major, Hob.VIIa/1
Thomas Adès Concentric Paths
Mendelssohn – Symphony no.3 in A minor, ‘Scottish’, op.56


This was, as ‘they’ say, a concert of two halves: two violin concertos in the first, in truly excellent performances by Augustin Hadelich; a symphony in the second, let down by uncomprehending conducting by Kazuki Yamada. Unifying the two halves was the splendid, dark-hued, ‘old German’ playing of the Lower Austrian Tonkünstler Orchestra. It had been far too long since I had heard them – three years ago, in fact, in a wonderful Mahler Second – but it was a delight to hear them once again, aided of course by the fabled warmth of the Musikverein acoustic.

Let me get the Mendelssohn out of the way: a great pity, given the depth of bass tone we heard from the orchestra. The first movement benefited from a beautifully grave opening, which really seemed to be leading somewhere. Alas, there was far less of a sense to that in the ensuing Allegro poco agitato, which, under Yamada, progressed only sectionally, with little impression of an overarching line, let alone of the dynamism inherent in Mendelssohn’s form. The scherzo is marked Vivace non troppo; not only did Yamada disregard ‘non troppo’ but he substituted Presto. His podium dancing was eye-catching, if unfortunate. The great Adagio, beautifully dark in orchestral colour, again proceeded fitfully, bar by bar. Gravity came through by virtue of the playing, but the conductor needed to make the music sound more at ease with itself. A hard-driven finale made me long to hear the same orchestra play the symphony with another conductor.

In retrospect, it became even more clear that the Haydn C major Concerto had been the soloist’s interpretation. Cultivated playing from both Hadelich and the orchestra was a joy from beginning to end: such a delightful change from the world of ‘authenticke’ grotesquerie some curious souls claim to favour in Classical music. In the first movement, everything simply sounded ‘right’: the tempo, rhythm, phrasing, articulation, harmonic motion, and so forth. Hadelich’s double-stopping was despatched with just as much beauty as his more lyrical lines;  likewise his cadenza. The slow movement breathed air similar to, although not quite identical to, Mozart’s Salzburg. Lovely orchestral pizzicato heightened the resemblance: delightful! The finale was lively without that wearying need some soloists show to scream ‘high octane’. Most important, it was true to the work’s – and the performance’s – character; it acted as a finale.

I have often felt ambivalent about Thomas Ades’s music, but gained a much stronger impression from this work for violin and concerto, Concentric Paths. Although in the ‘traditional’ three movements, there was nothing Classical about their respective weighting, the second, ‘Paths’, clearly the weightiest as well as the longest. The striking, circling (?) opening put me in mind of a composer wanting – fair enough – to have his quasi-minimalist or indeed his quasi-modernist cake and eat it. As the concerns of this first movement, ‘Rings’, came more clearly into focus, I was often put in mind, not unpleasingly, of Prokofiev. Hadelich’s cleanness of tone was just as striking, however high-lying his part – and sometimes it is very high indeed. Frustrated and sometimes non-frustrated lyricism were often apparent, the intensity of dialogue between the soloist and other soloists from within the orchestra – taking up figures from each other, developing them – a particular joy. Shards, gestures, fragments and more of melodies: the second movement opened as if one were hearing only part of a greater whole, which again seemed to come into focus, and with a particularly strong sense of drama. The tuba, perhaps inevitably, put me in mind of Fafner – but Fafner with a sense of decidedly non-Wagnerian irony. Again, Prokofiev did not seem so very far away at times. Disjuncture of meter offer a decidedly irregular – in more than one sense – basis and/or topping to the third movement, ‘Rounds’. A Prokofiev-like combination of lyricism and the mechanistic is engendered with decidedly more (post-)modernistic means – and that, too, was how it sounded in performance.

Mark Berry

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