Oxford Philharmonic Explore Different Facets of Beethoven and Mahler

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven, Mahler: Natalia Lomeiko (violin), Kate Royal (soprano), Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra / Marios Papadopoulos (conductor). Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 25.11.2018. (CR)

Beethoven – Violin Concerto in D major Op.61

Mahler – Symphony No.4 in G

Neither Beethoven nor Mahler are particularly known for the lyrical, melodic qualities of their major orchestral statements, but the two works in this programme demonstrated these different facets of their output.

The gentle taps on the timpani at the opening of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto heralded a performance of generally mellow poise and contentment from the Oxford Philharmonic. If Marios Papadopoulos’s interpretation could occasionally have instilled more tension and direction, nevertheless it flowed admirably without any disruptive jolts or changes of gear, making it seem as though issuing in one breath as it were.

Natalia Lomeiko, one of the orchestra’s own members, assumed the solo role, matching their broad ebb and flow in the long phrases of the first movement, and remaining demurely and steadily objective rather than becoming overly emotionally engaged with the musical narrative. The slow movement was notably warmer in approach by both her and the orchestra, with the solo line meltingly sustained, although the arabesques in the violin’s high register were just a little cloudy, which stood out in contrast with the otherwise impressive evenness of her tone. Lomeiko brought a gentle lilt, even a bounce, to the Rondo finale, though a touch more charm and humour would have been welcome, with the impression of a slightly impatient account of the movement resulting, underlined by the more aggressive beats of the timpani created by wooden sticks rather than the soft ends used at the very opening of the work.

Mahler’s Fourth Symphony ends with the innocence of a child’s view of heaven as expressed in the setting of a text from the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which the composer drew upon at various times for other songs that he composed. That guileless mood was inherent from the start, with the relaxed, carefree character of this performance. Indeed, the clouds of angst and doubt which occasionally occlude Mahler’s vision could have been met with greater darkness and drama, for instance at the climax of the first movement which was not quite as ‘wild’ as Mahler’s marking required, and the succeeding schwungvoll section which needed that quality rather than be played as straightforwardly as it was here.

Elsewhere, particularly in the mystical third movement, a greater Brucknerian or Straussian breadth and lushness would have created a more authentic Viennese (or more general late Romantic, Austro-Germanic) character in this performance, though the concentration of that movement was certainly long-breathed and peaceful.

There was some vivid detail in the second movement scherzo with the scordatura tuning of the solo violin providing a pungent edge to the music’s somewhat ghoulish course. There were also the sarcastic solo interjections from the clarinet and some hard-plucked jabs from strings and harp. In the calm, bathetic atmosphere of the finale, Papadopoulos secured a serenely sprung backdrop for Kate Royal to take up the vision of heaven with some rich and suggestive sonority in the song that otherwise can be taken rather like a lullaby. That offered an intriguing dimension to Mahler’s Fourth Symphony overall, belying the apparent simplicity of its inspiration and leaving open the question of an after-life which the work probes.

Curtis Rogers

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