The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra has returned to Salzburg’s Great Festival House for a set, under the baton of its chief conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada. The large hall was packed – looked to be completely sold out.
Normally there is only so much Chopin I can tolerate at any one sitting, so I came in a little apprehensive about his first piano concerto taking up the entire first half of the program (which is part of my subscription package). I mostly know Chopin’s works for solo piano, which don’t really do it for me, so feared a long concerto might be worse. However, hearing this work for the first time I realized that adding an orchestra gave the music more depth and variety (the longer parts for solo or with limited orchestra were naturally less interesting). There was a certain swing to this performance, with Rafał Blechacz, a young Pole, at the keyboard. He produced a glistening tone, fingers tapping lightly as though on top of the water, letting the ripples flow softly outwards. The orchestra supported this approach. And while it seemed a more appropriate piece for a Sunday matinee and not a Wednesday evening concert, somewhat sedate and subtle, it worked. While I am not likely to go out of my way to hear this concerto again, I would not now seek to avoid it either.
As if to prove a point, though, Blechacz came out with an encore that sounded like a solo Chopin work, and though nothing was missing from his playing, the absence of the orchestra was notable.
After the intermission, the orchestra and Orozco-Estrada gave a somewhat unusual interpretation of Dvořák‘s Ninth Symphony. Orozco-Estrada decided to emphasize some of the off-kilter syncopation by playing around quite drastically with tempi – faster or slower, speeding up and slowing down. This approach was not unconvincing (it perhaps made the piece more American and less Czech in inspiration – the piece has elements of both), however it left instruments too often out of time with each other, which I don’t believe was the intent.
The orchestra opened the concert with a somewhat muddy tone, but warmed and became clearer throughout, particularly as the Dvořák symphony progressed (the encore, another Dvořák movement for strings only from his Serenade for Strings, was more homogenized). All in all, this group sounded much better than the last time I heard them here about two years ago, this time playing with more emotion and color, particularly the improved brass. Last time I suspected they had not done a proper soundcheck in the hall, but this time the balance worked well.