Marvellous Playing from Nagano and Elite DSO

26/05/2013

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 Britten, Richard Strauss, Brahms: Jan Vogler (cello), Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Kent Nagano (conductor), Semperoper, Dresden, Germany, 24.5.2013 (MC)

Britten:  Passacaglia from Peter Grimes, Op. 33b
Richard Strauss: Don Quixote, Op. 35
Brahms:  Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester & Jan Vogler Foto: Oliver Killig

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester & Jan Vogler
Foto: Oliver Killig

Last September at the Berlin Philharmonie I saw the Deutsches-Symphonie Orchester Berlin in concert under Tugan Sokhiev, their recently appointed principal conductor and artistic director. They played the Rachmaninov Symphony No. 3 and in my report I described their performance as “simply stunning” – a description that could equally apply to this concert of theirs at the Semperoper conducted by Kent Nagano. In my view the DSO is one of the world’s elite orchestras and deserves to have a greater profile on the world stage. Other orchestras also playing marvellously that deserve to be better known internationally are the Hallé, the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and all would certainly enhance a future Dresden Music Festival.

Theopening work, in his centenary year, was Benjamin Britten’s Passacaglia from the opera Peter Grimes. A fine work, but I was rather disappointed not to have heard instead the Four Sea Interludes that would have only taken around nine minutes longer. I’m not sure how well the DSO knew the Passacaglia but the well prepared players under Maestro Nagano were able to convey an underlying sense of dark foreboding. It was easy to imagine the unforbidding nature of the Suffolk coast with a bitter wind blowing in off the North Sea – a picture that Britten evokes so well in Peter Grimes.

Next came Richard Strauss’sDon Quixote, a programmatic work inspired by the epic novel of Cervantes. I have long felt that this lengthy and highly melodic score of such high romanticism is probably not heard as often as it deserves in the concert hall. German/American cellist Jan Vogler performed his part splendidly playing with sensitivity and affection pitted against an orchestra revelling in Strauss’s sumptuous treasury of ravishing melodies. Annemarie Moorcroft played her solo viola part – rather a calming influence on the proceedings – with considerable expression, and I felt that the six horns played marvellously with the colourful woodwind contributions seeming especially vivid. Afterwards I had enjoyed every single minute but feeling exhausted I was glad that my adventuring with the errant knight was over.

Returning suitably refreshed after the interval the second half of the concert consisted of the Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor, a work of his maturity although he had made sketches for the score some twenty years earlier. Those gravely solemn and threatening timpani strikes that open the first movement carried great conviction and never failed to thrill. Clearly in firm control Nagano obtained a menacing power of bold forward momentum contrasted with generous quantities of passion and splendour. Meltingly beautiful playing, containing a burnished autumnal feel, infused the E major Andante sostenuto. Those rapturous sounding strings were played with such compelling affection and I was also struck by the stunning playing of the horns who avoided any temptation to play too stridently. Magnificent lyrical melodies were highlighted in the short Un poco allegretto e grazioso right from the swaying, opening measures it felt as if Spring had come all at once. Nagano drew from his players fresh music evocative of cool early morning dew over a backdrop of Alpine scenery; but it all seemed over far too soon. Containing a sense of anguished apprehension at the beginning of the closing movement the splendid playing created a wealth of drama where it was easy to imagine relentlessly changing Alpine vistas. At one point I wondered if I had ever heard playing of such elevated quality. Played this well the magnificent romantic theme that appears from nowhere is one of the glories of classical music and the work’s conclusion was as authentically exhilarating as I have heard.

It seems wrong to single out particular sections for special praise in what was a marvellous team performance but all evening I marvelled at the astonishing quality of the strings for their compelling unity and potency, emitting a lustrous timbre of rare beauty. The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin is in tremendous form and I cannot find high enough praise for their performance at the Dresden Music Festival it was a triumph.

Michael Cookson

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