Riccardo Chailly loves a project. The complete Puccini operas has been a pillar during his tenure at La Scala. Another has been a series of operas that were premiered at La Scala but are less frequently performed today (e.g. Rossini's La gazza ladra and Giordano's Andrea Chénier). Now, Chailly is performing a full Beethoven cycle with the Filarmonica della Scala, in which he has decided to observe the composer's original metronome marks. After performing the Fourth Symphony in September, next it was time for the Second and Third. Here was a performance to emphasise the great stylistic leap the composer made between the two works.

Riccardo Chailly conducts the Filarmonica della Scala
© Giovanni Hänninen | Filarmonica della Scala

Chailly did not hang around in the slow introduction to the Second Symphony, letting the sound run while keeping a hand on the leash, thus allowing tension to accumulate as if winding up a mechanical toy. When he released it in the whirring Allegro con brio, quicksilver violins flew and horns comfortably seared through clear textures. This lightweight, combustive account lacked bluster, sourcing tension from its forward momentum and dense, compact core. The Larghetto, in which limpid winds and upper strings sounded delightful, was brisker, dreamier and breezier than is often the case. By removing excess weight, the Scherzo was made to sound especially springy, the Allegro molto more skipping than chugging.

Paradoxically, a lighter and faster rendition of the Third Symphony, which sounded smaller-scale than the usual broodingly romantic envisionings, underlined, rather than undermined, its sense of progressiveness compared with the previous work. Faster tempi and minimal stodge bore a polished sound that made the work's harmonic and structural complexity all the more evident. Orchestral detail in the first movement – lashing basses, blistering brass, boiling upper strings and the development section's six pounding chords – were bold and vivid. Play the Third with greater zip, we discovered, and there will be more traction in the sound.

While the Marcia funèbre was appropriately gloomy, it was not overly theatrical; buoyed by bubbling winds, arching sunnier phrases between the spasms were given space to sing. The ascent to the fugal summit felt more like a scamper than a laborious trek, with cloudy skies at the top opening into a bright, expansive vista. The Scherzo evoked small drops of rain skittering on a surface, and, in the Finale, Chailly provided a delightfully contrasting range of variations. Next up are the Eighth and Fifth symphonies in January, en route to the monumental Ninth in June. Now that will be interesting.