For better or worse the cobwebs have been blown away. On Wednesday, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra made its first appearance at the Proms with its current music director, Riccardo Chailly. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the Leipzig orchestra has been a frequent visitor to London and there has been ample opportunity to sample its impeccable, old-school playing of the German classics, albeit in sometimes sleepy performances.
Chailly has woken them up. Beethoven’s “Coriolan” Overture made an urgent opening to Wednesday’s concert, swiftly paced and with lithe playing. Then he set off with a light, fleet tread into the rhythmic footsteps that propel the first movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto on its way.
Everything was clear-headed – no deep, Germanic soul-searching here – and the young soloist, Viviane Hagner, complemented Chailly with her fresh, sweet playing. The performance was always true to itself, even if it made the concerto seem a smaller piece than usual.
That was certainly not the case with Brahms’s Symphony No.4 after the interval. Chailly lit a fire under the symphony, burning up from its classically conceived foundations until the flames licked around the summit of the finale in a highly dramatised final conflagration. All this was a world away from the autumnal, laid-back performances of the Brahms symphonies that Kurt Masur gave with the Leipzig Orchestra so widely in the 1990s. Nothing that Chailly did could be taken for granted. And yet that aristocratic Leipzig sense of balance and proportion was gone, replaced here by a tight, tense sound with edgy strings, strident brass and over-aggressive timpani, not always pleasing to hear. Perhaps Chailly and his Leipzig musicians still need a year or two to get to know each other better.
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