tue 21/10/2014

Stotijn, Fritz, LSO, Harding, Barbican | Classical music reviews, news & interviews

Stotijn, Fritz, LSO, Harding, Barbican

Sprightly Schubert and weighty Mahler supply an evening of Austrian romanticism

Daniel Harding(c) Deutsche Grammofon/Harald Hoffmann

The alpha (Schubert) and omega (Mahler) of Austrian romanticism made for a musically satisfying pairing as the London Symphony Orchestra resumed normal service after its recent Gergiev-Berlioz marathon. Buoyed by the contrasting delights of a sprightly symphony and a weighty song-cycle, the spring was back in the musicians' collective step as they played as one for their principal guest conductor, Daniel Harding.

Less satisfying were the evening’s vocal contributions, albeit for different reasons. The male soloist may be the junior partner in Das Lied von der Erde, but he has to sing over some of Mahler’s thickest orchestrations so there needs to be a hefty dose of Helden to his tenor. Alas for Burkhard Fritz, London boasts few wonders to equal the LSO in full voice and with his relatively light (though not unattractive) resources he didn’t stand a chance. It didn’t help that his instinct in “Von der Jugend”  was to blend with the orchestra rather than to sing over it.

Delft-born Christianne Stotijn is making a name for herself as a Mahler specialist and there was no denying her engagement with the music, but where was the magic? Her opening phrase in the thirty-minute marvel "Der Abschied" was desperately matter-of-fact, unlike Gareth Davies’s spectrally beautiful accompanying flute solo, and the essential Mahlerian qualities of luminosity and amplitude were entirely missing from her palette. As a result, music that should transport the listener never left the station. It didn’t help that the character of Stotijn’s voice seemed to change with each shift in dynamics, so that her forte had an edge that was not discernible in her piano singing.

Schubert’s Fifth Symphony opens with a sunny chuckle that’s a million miles from Mahler’s long farewell

The LSO and their conductor rose above this disappointing vocal work with an efflorescent account of Mahler’s luxuriant orchestration. Clean, sharply defined solo instruments shone in brilliant relief against a lush bed of strings. Maybe Harding could have reined in the volume a tad to give his soloists a fighting chance; but he seemed determined to give his virtuoso orchestra its head. This was not to be a reading of compromises.

Schubert’s Fifth Symphony opens with a merry chuckle that’s a million miles from Mahler’s long farewell, though in Harding’s aristocratic phrasing it felt more as though a maid was gently drawing aside satin curtains on a sunny morning. The unanimity of the LSO strings (violins divided antiphonally) was exquisite.

Harding teased and cajoled the feather-light orchestration with gestures as graceful as the music itself. In the second movement’s opening figure he wrought a delicious tenuto just before the descending phrase, and the subtly ornamented repeat had a special charm. In earlier years the still-youthful conductor was wont to hurtle a bit in such music, but not here; his third-movement Minuet was lively without being over-busy, and the contrast in tempo in the Trio section was all the more pleasing for not being extreme.

Clean, sharply defined solo instruments shone in brilliant relief against a lush bed of strings

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