The European Concert: Beethoven • Brahms • Haydn
The organisers of the Europa Konzert have selected some fairly spectacular buildings as the backdrop for their annual concerts. In 2010, Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre hosted the Berlin Philharmonic with particularly memorable results in Alisa Weilerstein’s emotionally charged interpretation of the Elgar Cello Concerto. For this release of the 2012 concert, it’s the turn of Vienna’s lavishly bedecked Spanish Riding School, and coincidentally another cellist, Gautier Capuçon, occupies centre stage, this time in the Haydn C major.
As far as I am aware the Spanish Riding School is not normally used as a concert venue and its boomy acoustics must have posed quite a problem even for such an expert ensemble as the Berlin Philharmonic. Judging by the rather unblended timbres that emerge at the outset of the Brahms Haydn Variations, the players take a bit of time to accommodate to the hall and indeed Gustavo Dudamel’s conducting of the opening variations seems a little tentative. Thereafter, the performance gathers much more momentum with a thrilling account of the Finale.
Capuçon projects the Haydn with an almost ideal blend of elegance and showmanship and there’s some dazzling off-the-string passagework in the finale. The performance of Beethoven’s Fifth is imbued with great drama and rhythmic dynamism, and here Dudamel galvanises the orchestra to play at its very best. Admittedly sound quality is not ideal, but the engineers have achieved marvels in giving it some clarity and focus. Less involving is the camerawork, with its obsessive focus on a seemingly endless sequence of chandeliers, and it’s a pity not to have included some bonus material from the rehearsals.