Elgar, Korngold, Kreisler, Vaughan Williams, Händel
Tonight’s performance in the Felsenreitschule of the oddly-named North German Radio Radio Philharmonic proved altogether more satisfying than last night.
Violinist Arabella Steinbacher returned this evening with Korngold‘s violin concerto, which besides having far more to say than Brahms’ dull offering last night also highlighted both of her main strengths: warm melodic lines and complex rich fullness of body. The general progression of the work moves from the first towards the second, a combination of styles many violinists cannot accomplish but Steinbacher can. Once again, however, her sound, though not small, was also not big, but conductor Andrew Manze ensured the orchestra maintained the proper balance, never overwhelming her and indeed blending and augmenting with her tones. This is a good partnership.
She played the same encore as last night – the recitativo and scherzo by Kreisler – but it succeeded even more coming as it did after the Korngold. It also started with the warm lines before becoming more active, echoing and magnifying the Korngold work, to send us even more satisfied into the break.
The concert had opened with Elgar‘s seldom heard concert overture Froissart, which represented an attempt to use late 19th-century musical language to harken back to the 13th. It had its moments, but could have used some serious editing which might have also cleared up just what it was trying to do (the orchestra also seemed unclear and got lost a couple of times). Indeed, Elgar himself apparently thought the same when he looked back at it years later, but decided not to fix it. Now I’ve heard it.
Vaughan Williams‘s Symphony #5 followed the break, and although three times longer than the Elgar work, and also a somewhat emotive nostalgic work, it had a point, contained wonderful touches and nuances that kept the listener interested, and was properly edited. Completed at the hight of the Second World War, it was sad but hopeful, and Manze and the orchestra gave a skilled presentation with great understanding – essentially the opposite of the Elgar at the start of the concert.
A warmer applause – bigger than last night – was well-earned, and in return they treated us to two excerpts from Händel‘s Music for the Royal Fireworks. I must also say that Händel’s monumental works come across far better when arranged for modern orchestras and forces Händel would have gladly had if they had existed in his age – using piddly baroque ensembles with out-of-tune instruments doesn’t really cut it any more (at least not for these grand showcases).