Tonight's performers, The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Möst have teamed up on several occasions, the last such being the 2015 Nobel Prize Concert. Then they played Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto with Daniil Trifonov as a soloist, and the result was impressive, so expectations for tonight were high but, alas, were not entirely reached.

Franz Welser-Möst conducts the RSPO
© Urban Wedin

Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, written in 1806, is special for being much more in the classical style than both the adjacent Third and the Fifth Symphonies. Form and melodious themes are more important than grandiloquent orchestrations, and it less suits a scenario for grandiose renditions. Still, the performance was lively and fluent, if not slightly uninteresting. The highlights were the woodwinds. Leonard Bernstein once shouted during a rehearsal of Mahler's Fifth in the early 1970s, after being pleased with the orchestra's response to the horn's opening phrase: "Mahlerklang!" In Beethoven's symphony, the woodwinds truly had, paraphrasing Bernstein, Beethovenklang.

The opening strokes, though lacking in thematic material, managed to create an impression, much like the repetitive As in the opening of Mahler's First Symphony. After this first slow and rather controlled introduction, three modest movements of Franz Welser-Möst's baton brought the orchestra into full-scale action. Mellow and confident woodwinds shone for the first time here. The pastoral clarinet, flute and oboe at each turn provided an almost transcendental experience.

In contrast to the first two movements' rather slow character, the third one's more swift opening was rendered in lively fashion. The orchestra's full capacity was put to the test in the lively finale. Not only the varying intensities but also the diverse characters presented in this Allegro ma non troppo were challenging, but the orchestra managed to keep the Beethovenklang right until the end. 

Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony made much more of an impact. The performance was outstanding: the superb cellos shone all the way from the dramatic beginning of the long first movement through the almost caricatured cheerfulness of the last two. What the woodwinds did for Beethoven's symphony, the brass did for Shostakovich's. Right from the beginning of the piece they created the right atmosphere. The trumpet's crisp rendition of the main theme in the first movement was doubtless one of the highlights of the whole evening, although the oboe and cor anglais passages in the same movement pierced through the concert hall as well.

The clarinet's technical proficiency during the opening of the second movement was remarkable, and soon the rest of the woodwind section, the brass and the whole of the orchestra followed in perhaps the most intense six minutes of the whole evening, that finished in a whirl of flutes. It was then the strings' turn in the characteristic final movement, and the result was wonderful, beginning with light violins that were then joined by the whole string section. Crowned by the first violin's solo, this movement was the perfect closing for the evening. A wonderful performance.