Brahms, Kreisler, Mendelssohn, Händel
The North German Radio Radio Philharmonic has come to the Felsenreitschule in Salzburg this week. That sentence apparently does not have a typo. The orchestra indeed has “radio” twice in its name. How bizarre. Must be a German attempt at humor.
I actually was only planning on going to their concert tomorrow, but ended up with this ticket unexpectedly: I’ll miss the Luxemburg Philharmonic in March while I am in London, and was wondering what to do with that ticket, when the concert promoter got in touch with me the same day entirely by chance and asked if I might happen to be willing to exchange my ticket for that concert for something else (during maintenance work in the Felsenreitschule, the seat for which I had a ticket had been removed and replaced with a wheelchair spot). So this was the exchange. Solved their problem and mine.
That said, there was a reason I had not planned on going tonight: the first half of the program contained a single work, the Violin Concerto by Brahms. Some anonymous wit had apparently once called this less a “concerto for orchestra and violin” and more a “concerto for orchestra versus violin.” Except that this description still makes it sound too exciting. It’s dull. Really dull (except for the oboe, who gets some nice melodies).
Soloist Arabella Steinbacher gave it a brave shot. She had a lush warm tone, with actually a lot of color and and substance – like a complex Georgian red wine. It worked best during the quieter passages, since the size of her sound was not especially large. The orchestra’s chief conductor Andrew Manze had everything under control, however, never allowing the orchestra to overwhelm her and keeping perfect balance. But did I mention the concerto is dull?
Steinbacher came back out for a solo encore, a little recitativo and scherzo by Fritz Kreisler which allowed her to show off her talent. Another bottle of fine Georgian wine from the cellar.
After the intermission, the Orchestra returned for a spirited Mendelssohn Symphony #4, his colorful “Italian” landscape. The orchestra also has a nice warm sound. But it’s not a Georgian red wine. It might be a German white. The playing was roundly good, but not especially distinctive and somewhat homogeneous. Two excerpts from Händel’s Water Music followed similarly. Fun stuff – not dull. Next time they might think of pairing Mendelssohn’s far better violin concerto with this symphony, rather than Brahms’ – the Mendelssohn would also be appropriate for Steinbacher’s tone. Poor choice this evening.