Review: London Philharmonic/Pappano, Schumann and Strauss, Snape, August 20

The London Philharmonic Orchestra at The Snape Proms

The London Philharmonic Orchestra at The Snape Proms - Credit: Archant

An overture, symphonic poem and a symphony along with one of the most celebrated set of songs with orchestral accompaniment made up the programme of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in a welcome visit to Snape with Covent Garden Music Director Antonio Pappano conducting.

Byron’s epic poem Manfred made a great impression on the young Schumann (as it did on other composers, including Tchaikovsky) but it was nearly 20 years before he actually composed an overture and several other numbers in a burst of composition. The overture mirrors its literary model and Pappano guided the performance with a strong sense of the drama.

Schumann’s fourth symphony was unsuccessful at its premiere and ten years later the composer extensively reworked it into a new form. Although it has four recognisable movements, they are thematically related and played without a break; the work has a closely knit feel. Pappano and the players captured this successfully and there was an energy and fervour in the opening movement. The Romance slow movement, delicately played, nevertheless probed the underlying unease and the scherzo neatly mixed sturdiness and grace. The finale, an exultant birthday greeting for his wife had the feel of a celebration and was driven to an exultant conclusion.

By the end of the Second World War Richard Strauss was entering his eighties and had seen his beloved city of Dresden almost obliterated. Yet in his remaining years (he died in 1949) he produced some of his most enduring and heartfelt works – Metamorphosen, “inspired” by the Dresden bombings and the Four Last Songs. Emma Bell replaced the indisposed Dorothea Roschmann and sang with clarity, warmth and power as required in this most demanding music. The orchestra were rather too loud at the start of the opening number but soon adjusted and played the rich orchestration with evident relish and sensitivity. There were many good things but it was in the final song that one really experienced those heart-stopping moments of beauty and regret.

Till Eulenspiegel has remained one of Strauss’ most popular works and after this performance one could be in no doubt as to the reason. The orchestra delivered a stunning performance from the first note to the last, brimming with energy, excitement and enthusiasm. The wind playing, so central to the work, was crisp and colourful and the brass played with swaggering confidence. But perhaps the greatest credit goes to Pappano, who kept a notoriously tricky piece entirely on the rails while still delivering 17 minutes of exhilarating and thrilling music. Players and conductor fully merited the rapturous reception.

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Gareth Jones

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