Reviewed by: Andrew Morris
This programme revived the spirit of “Beethoven Night” at the BBC Proms for the second time in a week, and these were no ordinary performances. As its four-year Beethoven Project draws to a close, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie brought to the BBC Proms a taste of its Beethoven symphony cycle, already committed to disc by RCA, that is currently touring the world. The Royal Albert Hall’s cavernous acoustic proved no barrier for this remarkable orchestra, despite their limited numbers, its members playing with attack and the volume of a much larger ensemble, seizing every opportunity to flex their collective muscle, and delivering refined, exhilarating and hyperactive performances.
Paavo Järvi and his orchestra launched into Beethoven’s First Symphony with such enormous force that the less than ideally coordinated opening chords were soon forgotten. Although playing on modern instruments, the strings played with little vibrato and textures were well balanced between strings, wind and brass. Järvi’s direction produced a nervous energy throughout, though in the first movement particularly this was at the expense of charm. The antiphonally placed violins made perfect sense in the second movement, precisely the Andante cantabile con moto marked by the composer. Here, the performance had the quality of chamber music. Some finely controlled pianissimos in the Minuet and Trio and the breathless pace in the finale made this a performance of extremes, dispatched with astonishing virtuosity.
Joining Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie for the Violin Concerto was Hilary Hahn. This is music she recorded more than ten years ago with the Baltimore Symphony and David Zinman. The period-performance touches were even more evident in the long introduction to the first movement, which was sensitively played until the first fortissimo, which seemed out of proportion. After this, though, the accompaniment was often the model of restraint and, rather ominously, was far more captivating than the violin solo itself. Hahn is a player of unwavering technical security; her intonation was flawless and her tone projected so clearly that no-one in the hall can have missed a note. But her consistency was at the expense of spontaneity and expression. She allowed herself one expressive glissando in the entire first movement, and in the second it was the remarkable orchestral sound rather than the solo violin line which held the attention. Her cadenzas (by Kreisler) and the lively finale were more alive, but throughout the performance her fast, tight and unwavering vibrato seemed at odds with the often vibrato-less orchestral strings. Indeed, it often seemed as though Hahn and the orchestra had chosen their separate paths, rarely meeting in style and intent. Hahn offered an encore in the form of the Gigue from Bach’s E major Partita.
After the interval, Järvi launched into Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony without waiting for the audience’s attention. The strings played with even less vibrato in this first movement and Järvi’s approach to the opening motif was unconventional, cutting short the minim and holding the tied minims much longer – the effect seemed deliberately iconoclastic. Exaggerated dynamics held sway once again and the first movement lacked nothing in fury. The second demonstrated a remarkable unblemished sound from the strings, but the orchestra’s preference for attention-grabbing effects begged the question of how well the music was served by such stylistic trickery. It continued into the third movement, which featured pianissimo playing that tested the limits of audibility but the coruscating finale benefited from a more uncomplicated approach. In all, this was electrifying playing that grasped a little too self-consciously at novelty and extremes.
As encores, Järvi offered the Minuet from Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony and then a captivating performance of Sibelius’s Valse triste, which rose to an almost unhinged climax.