Not since 1973 when Bernard Haitink performed as its Principal Conductor, has the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed in the NTR Zaterdagmatinee. Following his stint earlier this season leading the Orchestra della Scala, Christoph Eschenbach returned to the Concertgebouw with another smashing success. The programme was a return to tradition with a joyous and magnificently transparent Brahms’s Symphony no. 1 in C major. Before the intermission, in what turned out a high point of this series' season, Christian Tetzlaff stunned the audiences in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

Christoph Eschenbach © Eric Brissaud
Christoph Eschenbach
© Eric Brissaud
The Dutch première of Rihm’s Verwandlung 3 opened the evening. This virtuosity filled piece can be described as a short concerto for orchestra, as Eschenbach flaunted the high quality of the individual soloist and sections, in particular a refined clarinet solo passage. A rich depth from lower registers of the strings filled the Main Hall with a grand sonority. Later the remarkable quartet of woodwind soloists crisply contrasted each other. Easily accessible, Rihm’s almost neo-Romantic piece proved a smart and fresh opening before Beethoven and Brahms. Most importantly, it made me curious for the other parts of Verwandlung.

In the opening of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Eschenbach continued to display the extraordinary sound of the LPO. Christian Tetzlaff, however, was the star in his impeccable interpretation of this legendary work. With captivating momentum, he moved through Beethoven’s engaging developments. Cheerful optimism in beautiful harmonies contrasted the darker turns of the piece. In the tense pianissimos he produced with Eschenbach, it was evident the soloist and orchestra were a great match.

A highlight during the performance occurred in the opening Allegro ma non troppo. Tetzlaff performed his arrangement of the cadenza including timpani which Beethoven wrote for a later reworking from the violin to a piano concerto. Contributing to Tetzlaff's solo passages, Simon Carrington delivered great suspense with his ruffles on the timpani. At the end, Tetzlaff continued with tradition in a breathtaking encore of the Largo from Bach's C major sonata for solo violin.

Eschenbach’s rendition of Brahms’s First Symphony turned out very powerful, gushing with rich emotion. From his experience with other orchestras, the conductor’s command over the Concertgebouw’s famously tricky acoustics resulted in a masterfully enhanced sound of the LPO. Beethoven resonated spectacularly throughout the performance. In the opening of the first movement, timpani beat with a majestic air. Eschenbach coaxed fierce brilliance from the French horns. 

In the second movement, Concertmaster Pieter Schoeman made his violin sing with great lyricism in the wonderful solo that recalled Tetzlaff earlier with Beethoven. In the next movement, Eschenbach led the LPO through Brahms’ rhythmic complexities, while illuminating with great transparency the density of Brahms textures. Here in the trio, a joyous dance took over, offering a brief respite from the Brahmsian heavy-handedness.

With delicate gestures, Eschenbach entered the opening calm of the final movement. The conductor’s emphatic phrasing highlighted the Alpine folk tune, creating a fun pastoral mood. The LPO quickly moved into the highly energetic passages. In the Allegro non troppo, ma con brio section, Beethoven’s Ninth came to mind from all the melodic hommages Brahms included. Finally Eschenbach concluded Più allegro with the marvellous climax, leaving the audience behind, in a most happy state of mind indeed.

Let’s hope it won’t take the Zaterdagmatinee another 40 years to invite this rich, colourful ensemble to perform again.

****1