A Greatly Satisfying Concert from Blomstedt and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven and Bruckner: Leonidas Kavakos (violin), Gautier Capuçon (cello), Kirill Gerstein (piano), Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra / Herbert Blomstedt (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 22.10.2017. (AS)

Beethoven – Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano in C, Op.56

Bruckner – Symphony No.7 in E (ed. Nowak)

One very good and obvious reason why Beethoven’s Triple Concerto is performed so infrequently is that with three soloists involved it is an expensive item to put on a programme, unless three players from the accompanying orchestra are used. That was certainly not the case on this occasion, since all three soloists are very much of the front rank. Also, perhaps there is the lingering feeling from judgements of the past that this concerto is not quite of the calibre of Beethoven’s other concertos. Not true, I think, for it is surely a remarkable work, containing high-quality material and many innovative features.

It does perhaps need three soloists who are all first-class performers, capable of projecting their respective roles vividly, yet who have close spiritual rapport, since togetherness is a pre-requisite in this concerto. Such was the case in this performance. Notable also was the exceptional care with which Herbert Blomstedt managed the orchestral contribution: the opening statement in particular was elegantly shaped and projected. Gautier Capuçon produced an outstandingly beautiful quality of tone to match his immaculate technique; though one wondered again why Beethoven made his cellist play so much in high positions on the instrument’s top string at the expense of contrasting its lower notes with those of the violinist. Leonidas Kavakos played with a somewhat sharper tone quality than that of his string colleague, but his agility and artistry were no less, and Kirill Gerstein dealt capably and stylishly with the less than demanding piano part.

Both string players followed printed parts, while Kirill Gerstein used an iPad. This device and its user became at odds with each other in the finale, and Gerstein found himself playing the wrong music for a brief period. Fortunately, everything came back on track quite quickly.

This was already quite a long programme, with an unusually late 7.30pm start for a Sunday. Some of us who faced the usual Sabbath closures and diversions on our journeys home were ungratefully displeased that the trio decided to play an encore, the slow movement from Beethoven’s Piano Trio No.4, Op.11, beautifully though they did so. Soloist encores after concerto performances seem to be the norm now, and sometimes they do tend to hold up the natural progression of an evening’s performances.

And so to the Bruckner symphony. The warmth of the Leipzig string sections had already impressed in the Beethoven, and the beginning of the Bruckner gave then still more chance to display this quality. The orchestra has a fine group of woodwind players too, and there is a distinctively deep-toned quality in the brass that is characteristic of east German orchestras and perfect for Bruckner, though player for player this section does not quite equal the best that British orchestras have on offer technically. Blomstedt unfolded the first movement in a spacious, entirely natural yet arresting fashion: both he and his orchestra have Bruckner embedded deeply in their bones. It was one of those occasions when, although there are other ways of playing the music, this seemed to be the only way, at least for the moment.

The slow movement had a similarly spacious, mountainous quality in which every phrase breathed easily, though the tempo would have been too leisurely, probably, in less skilful hands than those of the enormously experienced nonagenarian conductor. The Scherzo and trio were however taken well up to conventional speeds, and presented a very effective contrast with what had gone before. And Blomstedt’s management of the many tempo changes in the finale were managed in masterly fashion to bring a greatly satisfying performance to an end.

Alan Sanders

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