fri 20/07/2018

Faust, LSO, Gardiner, Barbican review - Schumann as never before | reviews, news & interviews

Faust, LSO, Gardiner, Barbican review - Schumann as never before

Faust, LSO, Gardiner, Barbican review - Schumann as never before

An elusive violin concerto reassessed in victory for a misunderstood orchestral master

Isabelle Faust - transcendental meditationFelix Broeder

When a great musician pulls out of a concerto appearance, you're usually lucky if a relative unknown creates a replacement sensation. In this case not one but two star pianists withdrew – Maria João Pires, scheduling early retirement, succeeded by an unwell Piotr Anderzewski – and instead we had that most musicianly and collaborative of violinists Isabelle Faust in Schumann, not the scheduled Mozart. Given the superlative credentials already laid down by John Eliot Gardiner in the first concert of his Schumann project with the London Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, the argument for the Violin Concerto, generally perceived as a late problem piece in the composer's canon, was even more of the essence – an historic victory, in short.

Following on the heels of Gardiner's personable chat between works on Sunday about why the LSO violins, violas, wind and brass stand for Schumann (pictured below in 1850) – the proof has been in the brilliant sound they make – he appeared on the platform at the start in charming conversation with Faust about the nature of the strange beast they were about to play, the late arrival of timpanist John Chimes lending an extra improvisational edge to their insights on the Violin Concerto. Faust's avowal that "I never want to touch the ground" was borne out by her intimate meditation, especially in the quiet treatment of the first movement's utterly personal lyrical melody as the development winds down and the supernatural levitating of the central B flat major Langsam.

Schumann in 1850The heart of introspective transcendence, it was over too soon, only to yield to one of the strangest finales, a Polonaise which used to be taken at a faster speed than Schumann's seemingly puzzling metronome marking; Faust had no trouble filling the dream-like dance with vivacity, slow-motion grand jetés hovering in mid-air. With equally haunting colours from the LSO, making capital of what can sound in the wrong hands like thick, uninteresting orchestration, this was an interpretation as unforgettable as Ann Hallenberg's Sunday performance of Berlioz's Les nuits d'é. After this, I won't want to hear the concerto performed by anyone other than Faust.

The purely orchestral works on the programme underwent a vital transfiguration, too. In addition to repeating Sunday's intepretation of the Genoveva Overture with even more fire and depth, Gardiner also gave us two masterpieces from 1841 which have never had quite the success of the First ("Spring") Symphony as outpourings of Schumann's happiness in his new married life with Clara. The Overture, Scherzo and Finale, which Schumann dubbed a "Symphonette", makes up for the absence of a slow movement with what seems like a flare of personal distress in the oboe wails of the introduction, quickly brushed aside by rhythmic exuberance. Gardiner made the Scherzo – Schumann, like his friend and supporter Mendelssohn, never composed one less than first-rate – sound like an intimate, chamber-musical play on Beethoven's massive equivalents; the Finale seemed over before it had started.

Gardiner (pictured below) chose the original version of the Fourth – actually the real second – Symphony, the one which Brahms preferred in opposition to Clara's championship of the more conventionally symphonic 1851 revision. Textures still sounded surprisingly beefy here, with a headlong, almost manic approach that would have been too hyper in the outer movements without the profound contrasts of the intimate miracles which take place in between.

Gardiner conductingThe Romanza's startlingly spare unisons of oboe and cello were exquisitely rendered by key LSO player Oliver Stankiewicz, virtually leading the standing woodwind, and principal cellist Rebecca Gilliver; leader of the Schumann evenings so far Carmine Lauri brought the voice from another planet – Clara descending to console Schumann in bleak mood? – which makes a longer stay in the heart of the Scherzo (the reappearance still seems radical).

In its outer portions and throughout a dancing Finale with startling first-trombone blasts, Gardiner won playing from his orchestra which felt like a bouncing ball wielded with supreme sportsmanship. In obvious high spirits, so good to watch, they dashed off the last part of the Second Symphony's Scherzo for an encore, as they had on Sunday night; it was just as welcome here. Immersed in Schumann's orchestral world, those of us at both concerts want the final two instalments right now. Good to know, though, that the First and Third Symphonies are bound to be highlights of 2019 just as these have already been of 2018 so far – and nothing is going to knock them off that pedestal.

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