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Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, etc (Rotterdam/Shani)

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Lahav Shani (piano) (Warner Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony No. 7; Piano Concerto No. 4
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Lahav Shani (piano)
Warner Classics 9029517768   73:14 mins

Like his mentor Daniel Barenboim, Lahav Shani is both an outstanding pianist and conductor – he has been chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic since 2016 and recently became music director of the Israel Philharmonic. In the piano concerto, with violins arrayed left and right, and cellos and double basses (whose presence is unusually ‘felt’) in the middle, Shani emphasises the music’s lyrical impulse and exultant quality rather than eliciting a heroic overview. Although he relishes the implicit contrast in the brief Andante con moto central movement between muscular strings and acquiescent piano, he avoids the pitfall of attempting to impose a similar emotional narrative on the outer movements. Everything unfolds naturally – the finale possesses a reassuringly smiling quality reminiscent of classic Philharmonia accounts from Emil Gilels/Leopold Ludwig and Hans Richter-Haaser/Istvan Kertész (both EMI/Warner).

Likewise the Seventh Symphony (complete with first movement exposition repeat): in a work that can easily become an adrenaline-pumping exercise in musical exhilaration, Shani retains the joy without over-forcing the music’s physical impact. Indeed, the Scherzo is all fleet-footed dancing, without a hob-nailed boot within earshot. Even the finale retains its genial composure, without any sense of being driven – there’s certainly no lack of excitement, yet Shani avoids the manic quality that has become almost part-and-parcel of the Seventh’s rhetorical tradition. He also gauges well the fine line between HIP (historically informed performance) and indulging modern instrumental proclivities. The Rotterdam Philharmonic possesses an appealing inner glow and warmth that radiates a strong sense of collegiate endeavour.

Julian Haylock