Keen-Edged Playing from Dresden Philharmonic in Cardiff

09/10/2015

  Wagner, Rachmaninov, Brahms. Andrei Korobeinikov (piano), Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra of Wales, Michael Sanderling (conductor). St David’s Hall, Cardiff. 7.10.2015 (PCG)

Wagner – Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Prelude (1868)|
Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No 1, Op.1
Brahms – Symphony No 4, Op.98

For the second concert in the Rachmaninov series at St David’s Hall we were visited by the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Michael Sanderling, with Andrei Korobeinikov in Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto. Korobeinikov proved fully equal to all the challenges presented by the teenage composer’s early score, encompassing with apparent ease both the fiendish difficulties of the bravura passages and providing plenty of still rapture in the more contemplative interludes which occur in all three movements. Some twenty-five years after the first performance Rachmaninov radically revised the work, making structural alterations but also attempting to bring more life to the originally rather conventional orchestral writing. Regarding the latter, one might wish he had done more; some of the tutti passages in the outer movements here sounded rather weighty and certainly lacked the brilliance of the orchestration one might expect from the mature Rachmaninov. The orchestral playing itself was however keen-edged and responsive under Sanderling’s direction, and the reduction of the Wagnerian string forces elsewhere in the programme (eight double-basses, for example) brought tangible gains in clarity.

Mind you, there was plenty of clarity too in the performance of Brahms’s final symphony which followed the interval. At the opening I was rather perturbed by the very relaxed tempo set by Sanderling, emphasising the lyrical sway of the music rather than its incipient drama; but the performance gathered momentum (and speed) in a manner that suggested that this was a conscious decision to demonstrate how the composer had developed his material into new directions, and the end of the movement was thrilling in consequence. The slow movement gathered plenty of weight too, and the sparkling delivery of the scherzo demonstrated the sheer facility of the players. The finale, with its passacaglia proceeding on its relentless way, brought a real sense of climax. Sanderling allowed the tempo to slow during the more contemplative central section of the movement, but he did not allow the music to fall into a series of unrelated episodes and his conclusion brought cheers from the audience. As an encore the orchestra aptly provided one of the Brahms Hungarian Dances, but as before in international concerts at this hall I wish conductors would announce in advance what they are going to play – not all members of the audience are necessarily familiar with Brahms.

The concert had opened with a thrilling performance of the prelude to Wagner’s ‘comic opera’ Die Meistersinger. At the very start the violins, split stereophonically across the stage (a procedure which paid real dividends in the Brahms), gave some evidence of inexperience in the St David’s Hall acoustic (which can cause problems of audibility between sections on the left and right of the platform) with the result that the brass tended to swamp the strings; but they rapidly adjusted, and the notoriously difficult running passage for the unaccompanied violins was precisely negotiated. In the final sections of the prelude, every strand of Wagner’s elaborate counterpoint between the various themes was clearly audible. The Dresden players were welcome visitors to Cardiff, and the audience – not large, but better attended than for Rachmaninov’s The Bells last Saturday – clearly enjoyed themselves.

Paul Godfrey

ld Godfrey

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