Satisfying Period-Informed Performances by Dresdner Festspielorchester

19/05/2015

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Dresdner Musikfestspiele 2015  

  Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Schumann: Isabelle Faust (violin), Dresdner Festspielorchester / Ivor Bolton (conductor), Semperoper, Dresden, 17.5. 2015 (MC)Mendelssohn: ‘The Hebrides’ Overture (Fingal’s Cave)

Beethoven: Violin Concerto                                                                                       

Schumann: Symphony No. 2

The Dresdner Festspielorchester is a period instrument ensemble drawing players who specialise in historical performance practice from a number of Europe’s early music groups. In 2013 I saw Ivor Bolton conduct the Dresdner Festspielorchester, at the Albertinum (Lichthof) playing a Baroque programme in baking heat that severely affected the tuning of the gut strings. No such technical problems arose for this morning concert in the agreeable air conditioned surroundings of the Semperoper, Dresden with Bolton giving a programme of standard Romantic German repertoire all written within a forty period.

The opening work, Mendelssohn’s ‘The Hebrides’ (Fingal’s Cave) concert overture, got the concert off to a rip-roaring start with the sweet sounding Dresdner strings flowing exquisitely and Bolton ensuring that the climaxes were never overblown. Next the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Isabelle Faust playing her Stradivarius (1704) known as the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that in keeping with authentic performance practice, one assumes, was strung with gut. Faust certainly didn’t treat her strings over harshly relying on accurate playing with minimal vibrato producing a fragrant, if rather small sound that felt decidedly congenial and not short on character. With this strikingly fresh, radiant performance by Faust it was like hearing the work for the first time. Faust’s impeccably played first movement cadenza with its timpani part was striking and when needed Bolton was not afraid to demand plenty of bite from his players.

Schumann’s Symphony No. 2  proved an inspired choice by Bolton for the second half of the concert. I’m always surprised that Mahler found it necessary to re-orchestrate Schumann’s set of four symphonies, versions which a number of eminent conductors have recorded over the years notably Riccardo Chailly, and  I recall Carlo Maria Giulini recording the ‘Rhenish’. Having heard Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker perform the Schumann set last September at the Berlin Musikfest it was fascinating to hear the C major score given in a period-informed performance. Bolton stepped up to the plate delivering a meritorious account bursting with buoyancy and no shortage of energy, developing weight effectively in the climaxes. My highlight was the playing of the Adagio with its gently flowing rhythms with Bolton bringing out its glorious lyricism. Individual contributions in the movement from the meltingly beautiful oboe solo followed by the solo clarinet are worthy of special mention. Outstanding overall was how Bolton managed to imbue Schumann’s joyous music with an undercurrent of melancholy; an elusive quality rarely achieved. Conspicuous was the softer, more translucent string tone especially noticeable in the high harmonics and the minimal use of vibrato, the sensibly played weight of the brass with the natural horns sounding more like hunting horns than their modern valved successors and the martial sound of the kettle drums. The inconsistent uniformity of period instrument orchestras is a recurring conundrum as players adopt a varying stringency of approach to authenticity that often seems relative to how an individual feels most comfortable. So here we had gut strings with what looked like a mix of period and modern style bows, some of the violins and violas were fitted with chinrests other not. Some cellists used endpins whilst others held the instrument on the leg and I noticed that two bassists stood whilst two sat.

Whatever approach individual players chose to take, Ivor Bolton ensured that everything came together as one marvellous whole. With three masterworks of the Romantic repertory the Dresdner Festspielorchester gave one of the most satisfying period informed performances I have been privileged to hear.

Michael Cookson

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