Wiener Philharmoniker / Christian Thielemann - Théâtre des Champs-Élysées Paris, 23-28 November
Although London usually hosts at least one (and often three or four) high-quality classical concerts every single night, for some reason it's not on every orchestra's must-visit list.
Take the Vienna Philharmonic's full Beethoven symphony series with Christian Thielemann, recently immortalised on DVD (and also broadcast over the next few weeks on ORF). They travelled from Vienna to Paris last week, with Berlin dates to come - but nothing for us.
Perhaps they realised London wouldn't bear ticket prices like the eyewatering €165 (£140-ish) asked for the best seats in Paris - at least double the price the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées usually charge for orchestral concerts. That didn't stop the French dates from selling out though, nor some particularly pitiful ticket hunters from feebly waving their scrawled requests outside the theatre in Sunday's freezing winds. In a city with almost as much choice as London, the Vienna Philharmonic are still a big draw. And they've timed their project well. Beethoven symphonies are not in my experience programmed nearly as frequently as popular lore might suggest, and recent Mahler overload has made them an even more rare and precious treat.
I'm not sure what dictated the odd sequence of the four concerts - 4 and 5 together, then 6 and 7, followed by 1, 2 and 3, and ending with 8 and 9. Logistics? At least it ensured the better known symphonies were spread out evenly. And it revealed the immense advances of the second symphony over the first, usually shoved together as 'early works'. Thielemann has no truck with the light, transparent style generally favoured for music of this vintage. His first was as grand and weighty as his ninth, lending a curiously timeless quality to the enterprise, as if each symphony was a chapter in the same book. Forms were clearly outlined by dramatic shifts of tempo and dynamic, colours barely varied. Slower sections sometimes dragged, the price of achieving impact with the switch to a speedier tempo.
Parts of the orchestra were on surprisingly scrappy form. Not the legendarily golden strings, who now include five women amongst their number (at this rate the Vienna Phil might achieve gender parity some day. In the 22nd century perhaps). But the all-male horns split notes and missed cues, and the woodwind section had problems with intonation and ensemble. Time for a bit more lady-power?
The women who fiddle with the Wiener, all in matching black trouser suits, black tops and patent shoes:
The orchestra keep a spare instrument in each string section. Just in case:
Practicing in the interval - that's dedication: