Saturday, 3 March 2012

Unbearable length of being

Konzerthaus, 02/03/2012

Marc Minkowski, Les Musiciens du Louvre

Symphony no. 1 in D major, D 82
Symphony no. 4 in C minor, D 417 ‘Tragic’
Symphony no. 3 in D major, D 200

Marc Minkowski’s three day survey of Schubert’s symphonies has been heavily promoted around Vienna with the poster caption ‘Angst vor der Neunten’. There wasn’t much of that in the first concert, or indeed anything to give the performances some much-needed definition. These symphonies are being recorded for DVD release and this first instalment of 1, 3 and 4 will make for a mediocre addition to the Schubert discography.

I would write about each work, but they were all uninspired and featureless in much the same way and I just can’t summon up the interest to write about the music in any great detail. So here are some notes jotted on the back of the programme, in no particular order: 1. Phrasing – never more ambitious than generic when in evidence, and all too often musical lines which cry out for shaping simply pass Minkowski by. 2. Timbre – bizarre juxtaposition of winds & trumpets that sound sackbut-and-cornetty and horns as if pressed into the service of a hunting party. What place does this have in Schubert? 3. Ensemble – first violins only players really on the ball. Tempi changes never together to the point of precariously unstable for a few bars, fault entirely Minkowski’s poor sense of pulse.

I could go on. Some intonation problems aside, Les Musiciens didn’t play all that badly and were indeed quite committed. It only sounded like they were on autopilot as Minkowski was all at sea with the most elementary interpretive decisions. The only time it was truly awful, rather than merely some strain of musical anaesthetic, was when his more driven tempi and Les Musicien’s sawing strings coincided with the more unusual and daring harmonic writing, flattening its individuality.

Nos. 2, 8 and 5 were performed tonight, and though the Great subjected to Minkowski’s unbearable length isn’t something I can recommend, you can hear that alongside no. 6 on Monday.

Image credit: Getty Images


  1. Delighted to read someone else spotting the emperor's new clothes...

    1. Some very sweaty new clothes, it might be added - what a meal he made of subdivision! And even then it was just flailing around which the musicians had no hope of following.