Frankfurt Radio Symphony, second concert

After an excellent performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor, I was anxiously waiting for the second concert of Frankfurt Radio Symphony conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada, a Colombian educated in Vienna. In his case, I can believe the blurb in his biography that he “is one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation”.


The Sunday concert under his baton started with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Op. 84. With the captivating interpretation of this work, presented on Tuesday by the period-instrument Wiener Akademie still ringing in my ears, the offering of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, although very good, was less convincing as it was too heavy and monumental. Hardly surprising as it was performed by a large symphony orchestra. This is more a matter of personal taste and interpretive expectations (more verve and revolutionary tone!), than an objection to the orchestra’s skills. For the quality of an orchestra and conductor is also determined by its being a worthy partner to the soloist – and in Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40, in which the solo part was performed by the Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski, the orchestra did this to perfection. The Concerto No. 4 echoes Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and 3, but it lacks the charm and melodiousness that made these works so popular. This is, in fact, a kind of symphony concertante, and in any case such an interpretation of this work was presented by the performers, with the orchestra sounding more interesting and colourful than the piano under the fingers of Trpčeski, who is indeed a very good pianist, but perhaps a bit too superficial and effect-oriented. I think this performance did not convince those unconvinced by the 4th Concerto, a piece that is very rarely performed.


And finally – Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz, an epic work for orchestra, a great instrumental drama, in which the composer took the symphony form and the orchestra’s tonal fabric to create a phantasmagorical poetic vision with an artist in the main role. Still today, we admire the French composer’s colouristic inventiveness, surprising combinations of instrumental tones and sound effects (including the percussive sound of col legno, with bow-sticks bouncing on violin strings), which revealed his imaginative powers. In his memoirs, he recalled the first performance in December 1830 in Paris: “Three movements of the symphony—the Ball, the March to the Scaffold, and the Witches’ Sabbath—created a great sensation; the March to the Scaffold especially took the audience by storm. The Scene in the Country had no success”. The same could almost be said for the Sunday performance under Orozco-Estrada. The first movement, Reveries. Passions, was dramatically well played, especially the sudden ebbs and flows of passionate emotions, expressed in intriguing modulations and harmonic combinations – here the first and second violins particularly stood out with tonal cohesion and clarity, active music making, and bringing out their musicality in playing the principal voice.

The Ball and the Scene in the Country were less impressive, but I cannot forget the beautiful solos of woodwinds, especially the English horn. Woodwinds in this orchestra are excellent, again because of their perfect cohesiveness of sound and the resulting beautiful tone, but the string quintet and brass are equally excellent. The latter – the big and clean sounding French horns, trumpets and trombones – shone in the symphony’s fourth and fifth movement, which opened our ears to a dazzling musical theatre, taking place on many levels, especially in the fourth movement (March to the Scaffold). It was like a gruesome ceremony, created by a pair of timpani, a huge drum, brass and angry rumblings in the bass (what a great rhythmic bounce!). Tension did not sag even for a moment, working its way to the final movement, the Witches’ Sabbath, in which the ominous medieval Dies irae sequence rings out against a backdrop of tubular bells. For me, the compositional vision, a picture of the young Berlioz’s wild imagination was very suggestively presented by Orozco-Estrada: before my eyes appeared the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris from Victor Hugo’s novel, which – incidentally – was published just a year after the premiere of Symphonie fantastique, in 1831. The world created by the romantics continues to impress, especially when it finds worthy performers – after the last chord the audience was up on their feet. The conductor refused to give an encore – after such performance there was nothing to add.

Anna S. Dębowska

Sunday, 9 April, 7:30 pm, Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall