Frankfurt Radio Symphony, first concert

This was a wonderful concert! Frankfurt Radio Symphony under Andrés Orozco-Estrada sent shivers down the spine with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor, especially its second movement marked by a turbulent narrative with the characteristic motif in the double basses.

What an energy, dramatic nerve, and at the same time extraordinary tonal precision! I’ll come back to the Saturday Mahler in a second, because the evening began with the performance of Emmanuel Tjeknavorian (pronounced ‘Cheknavorian’), a 22-year-old Austrian violinist of Armenian descent, who gave a bravura performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64.

I was curious to hear how this young violinist would interpret Mendelssohn’s romantic concerto, which echoes A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and conjures up the spirit of mischievous Puck, the king of the fairies Oberon, and forest magic. Tjeknavorian had a great instrument at his disposal – an Antonio Stradivari violin from 1698, loaned to him by the Beare’s International Violin Society in London. There are so many great instruments at the Easter Festival – Taiwanese violinist Yu-Chien Tseng played a 1732 Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, and Veriko Tchumburidze a 1756 Giambattista Guadagnini. On Monday, the Israeli Amit Peled will present the tone of his 1733 Matteo Goffriller cello.

In the extreme movements of the concerto, Tjeknavorian opted for a very fast, indeed dizzying tempo. He merits admiration for his superlative string technique and dexterous fingers, which literally raced up and down the fingerboard. However, somewhere along the way, the E minor Concerto lost its tunefulness and melodiousness, which pervade this piece, even in showy passages. In fact, Tjeknavorian is a lyricist, which he showed in Andante from the E minor Concerto, where he played with a round tone and finely shaped phrasing, infused with an intense feeling. I also liked a dazzlingly delivered cadenza from the first movement.

In the second part of the evening, Frankfurt Radio Symphony (with five Poles in it) showed true class. In Mendelssohn the musicians were not entirely comfortable accompanying the violinist, who got carried away by his temperament (and perhaps nerves) at the cost of listening to his partners. In Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, the orchestra displayed a supreme technical command, as well as a keen awareness of the work’s form and expression from the first to the last bar.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada, born 1977, is a Colombian educated in Vienna in the performing tradition of the great conductor Hans Swarowsky, and has a fine rapport with the Frankfurt orchestra, of which he has been music director for three years. Mahler, as everyone knows, is great form, monumental architecture, music built on a vertically and horizontally imposing scale. Under Orozco-Estrada’s baton, the dense polyphonic structure of the symphony sounded very clearly and logically – the performers allowed the audience to orient itself to the complex narrative of this work. This interpretation was less of a melodrama and musical gestures of sobbing and lamenting, characteristic of Mahler, and more of musical theatre and revelling in this wonderful mechanism of the large symphonic orchestra, which produces a diverse palette of tonal colours. Worthy of admiration was the work of individual sections: the woodwinds, the excellent French horns, ringing out with a bell-like purity, and the well-disciplined quintet, in which cellos and first and second violins sounded like one entity. The famous Adagietto (fourth movement) for string orchestra and harp felt suspended in time and endless love melody of the violins (Mahler wrote this movement for his wife-to-be, Alma Schindler).

The festival audience rose to their feet to give a sincere standing ovation, and although the conductor seemed reluctant to give an encore, he let himself be persuaded by the enthusiastic reception: for an encore, Frankfurt Radio Symphony performed Variation IX (“Nimrod”) from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Anna S. Dębowska

Sunday, 8 April, 7:30 pm, Warsaw Philharmonic Hall