A press tour round the Royal Festival Hall last week has started to raise expectations for the re-opening in June. Although the hall is still a building site, the foyers are visibly less cluttered, the bars more spacious, and the acoustics have had so many millions spent on them that they had better be improved or a lot of people will want their money back.
With all eyes so firmly fixed on the future, it seemed strangely contrary that the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert on Friday should choose to look backwards. Yes, this was another programme pairing Mozart and Shostakovich, just in case anybody had missed them in 2006, their double anniversary year.
Ingo Metzmacher, who takes up his new post as principal conductor of the Deutsches Symphonie- Orchester Berlin in September, is best known as a pioneer of new music, but his sympathies are wide. In Mozart he was decisive and businesslike. His performance of the Symphony No 40 refused to linger over expressive details – no hint of burgeoning romanticism there – and he provided a strong backdrop for soprano Christine Schäfer in a pair of Mozart’s concert arias.
Although her vocal resources are not great, Schäfer has started to move on to some quite taxing operatic roles and the combination of slim, pure tone and a determination to face the drama head on was very much what one would have expected after her successful appearances last year as Donna Anna in the anniversary production of Don Giovanni in Paris.
The Shostakovich that Metzmacher offered afterwards was on the same lines, but enlivened with vastly more colour and character. In both the suite from the ballet The Age of Gold and the Symphony
No 1 he sketched bold outlines, encouraging solo voices in the orchestra (including a highly expressive cello) to stand out like vivid faces in the crowd. The LPO players responded superbly. During the wilderness years in the QEH this is the orchestra that has shone and it must be hoping to retain its lead when the RFH reopens.
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