Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major Op. 61 (1806)
Berlioz Symphonie fantastique Op. 14 (1829-30)
Daniel Lozakovich (violin, above), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Fabien Gabel
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 2 February 2022
Written by Richard Whitehouse. Photo credit (Lozkanovich) Maison Simons
Juxtaposing these works in a single concert made good sense such that one wonders why this coupling has not been played more often, not least when the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra sounded fully aware of the very different motivations which lay behind each piece.
One of several concertos in-itself a first half, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was performed by Daniel Lozakovich – who, just into his 20s, already has a worldwide reputation. His finespun if never meagre tone proved eminently suited to this most inward of its composer’s orchestral works, as was his deftly inflected vibrato. The expansive first movement proceeded securely, Fabien Gabel galvanizing tuttis and preventing the development from losing momentum (due credit to Matthew Hardy’s immaculate timpani playing) before a heady surge into the reprise.
Any sense of Lozakovich – who gave the Kreisler cadenza with real fervour – eschewing ‘give and take’ with the orchestra had gone by the Larghetto, its variations unfolded eloquently and with no lack of expressive contrasts, abetted by felicitous playing from the CBSO woodwind. His impulsive approach to the linking passage into the ensuing Rondo then set the course for a finale which, though just a shade headlong compared with what went before, had a vitality and insouciance such as carried through to the close. The pathos that Lozakovich brought to its central episode and whimsy teased out of its coda (whose closing chords were a little too emphatic) were undoubted highpoints, and the soloist returned to acknowledge considerable applause with an artless reading of the Allemande that commences Bach’s Second Partita.
Whereas Beethoven’s concerto took over half a century to enjoy wider acceptance, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique was immediately recognized (however grudgingly) as a trailblazer in the emergent Romantic aesthetic. It was left to later generations to equal out its ‘symphonic’ undertow with its ‘fantastic’ overlay, Gabel’s astute handling of the prolix if never unwieldy structure making for the best of both worlds – not least his conveying the sonata design that focusses the alternate dejection and elation of Rêveries-Passions, or those ominous asides which offset the ingratiating charms of Un bal. The highlight, though, was an unfailingly cohesive Scène aux champs – its fraught culmination emerging inevitably from then back into the evocative outer sections with plangent cor anglais playing from Rachel Pankhurst.
Having (rightly) included the first movement’s repeat, Gabel did not take that in the Marche au supplice which consequently was over all too soon, though its high drama prepared well for a final Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat whose heightened flights of fancy were once again held in check by a sure sense of where this music was headed. Offstage contributions were convincingly drawn into the overall texture, and if the closing pages can yield even more of a ‘white-knuckle ride’, the visceral impact of Berlioz’s garish imaginings was never in doubt.
Nor, for that matter, was the sheer unanimity of the CBSO’s response across what is so much more than an extended showpiece. After next week’s Rush Hour Concert, the orchestra can be heard in a scarcely less virtuosic programme that concludes with Stravinsky’s Firebird suite.