We hear a lot of Beethoven in this city, but precious little of it is as exciting as the performance of his Fourth Symphony by the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie at the George Mason University Center for the Arts on Sunday.
British conducting phenomenon Daniel Harding led a performance of propulsive, almost delirious energy, reveling in the mischievous play of rhythms in the first and third movements and digging hard into the fourth movement's gutsy rhetorical gestures. Harding (at age 24 the Kammerphilharmonie's new music director) elucidated countless inner voices in the score.
In the Beethoven and in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20, the Bremen-based chamber orchestra incorporated period brass and timpani, and the strings played with minimal vibrato. All of this added a tangy edge to the ensemble's naturally creamy tone. (Kudos especially to the wind playing so consistently ravishing that it took the breath away.) Mozart's piano part was like chamber music in the hands of soloist Emanuel Ax. He played with intelligence, humanity and throwaway virtuosity, and made the cadenzas sound composed on the spot.
Harding and his orchestra made something gorgeous and eerily compelling of Charles Ives's "Three Places in New England." Every polyrhythmic, polytonal gesture was scrupulously placed and the performance evoked Ravel and Berg as much as any of the early century American experimentalists. Who'd have expected this German ensemble to have given us such perfect Ives?