COE/Abbado, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Beethoven considered the Paris-based Italian Luigi Cherubini his greatest contemporary, though nowadays even the French-revolutionary-period operas his international fame once rested on are rarely performed. His single symphony, commissioned and premiered by London's Philharmonic Society in 1815, is even less familiar. On paper, it made an intriguing opener for the Chamber Orchestra of Europe's concert under Roberto Abbado (Claudio's nephew). But it struggles to make an impact. Apart from some imaginative touches in the minuet and trio, it is awkwardly written, with almost nothing of interest for the wind to do. Worse, Cherubini shows little idea of development, while much of the thematic material falls depressingly flat.

In fairness, Abbado could do little with it, and though there was some lithe string playing and a general sense of vivacity whipped up by his over-generous platform gestures, the orchestra did not shine. An even more curious item was the 1951 Second Concerto for Orchestra by the long-lived Italian Goffredo Petrassi, who died three years ago at the age of 98. His vast output (there are seven more such pieces) has sunk without trace and the odd modernist gesture thrown into an uncoordinated mix that aspires to the level of B-movie atmospherics did little to enliven a directionless 15 minutes.

Having landed himself with these two duds, Abbado turned his attention to the one unequivocal masterpiece on the programme, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. It is a piece whose unstoppable momentum needs to be firmly controlled, but the conductor's ability to select and maintain a convincing tempo proved shaky. Though the players responded energetically to his over-effusiveness, even Beethoven's genius sounded in some doubt on this occasion.


George Hall

The GuardianTramp

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