Impressive Barber from Sarah Chang and Dresden’s Other Orchestra

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Brahms, Barber, Dvořák: Sarah Chang (violin), Dresden Philharmonic/Michael Sanderling (conductor), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 23.10.12 (MC)

Brahms: Variations on a theme by Haydn, Op. 56a (1873)
Barber: Violin Concerto, Op.14 (1939)
Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op.95 ‘From the New World’ (1893)

The concert was being broadcast live on BBC Radio 3


This Bridgwater Hall International Concert Series continues to be a veritable treasure trove of musical entertainment. Tonight’s visit to Manchester of the Dresden Philharmonic was quite an event for me. Founded in 1870 the orchestra is one of the oldest in Germany. In truth the Dresden Philharmonic tends to live in the shadow of the world famous Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, a much older orchestra. The prospect of hearing renowned American violinist Sarah Chang playing the Samuel Barber concerto was another enticing prospect.

Michael Sanderling has been in the role of chief conductor of the Dresdner Philharmonie just over a year and opened the Bridgwater Hall concert with the Brahms Variations on a theme by Haydn. More than a mere curtain raiser this is a highly attractive masterwork with the B-flat major theme an Andante based on a ‘St. Antony Chorale’ attributed to Haydn with eight variations and a finale. I was struck by Sanderling’s wide dynamics in an unforced and stylish, yet gloriously compelling performance that seemed to reveal itself so naturally.

Next the magnificent violin concerto by Samuel Barber written in 1939 for Iso Briselli the Jewish/Odessa born émigré. Briselli was enthusiastic about the first two movements but disappointed with the very short third movement Finale feeling that it was not substantial enough. The often made assertion that Briselli claimed that the Finale was too difficult to play has been refuted. Wearing a glorious gold off the shoulder gown that seemed far easier to play the violin in than to walk in Chang made a stunning impression. In an interview I had with the soloist prior to the concert Chang explained how much she adores playing the Barber concerto, an American work of which she has become a champion. Crammed with lyrical melodies I haven’t heard the Barber played with as much individuality and fiery passion as the animated Chang conveyed. I’m sure it was an interpretation that would divide opinion but I loved the heavy vibrato and brazen amounts of late-Romantic fervour that bought the concerto to life. Chang’s violin, a Guarnerius Del Gesu, Cremona from 1717, emitted a sweet, light tone that struggled to reach all corners of the hall; not an uncommon occurrence for many violin soloists in the Bridgewater acoustics. Having just listened to the BBC iPlayer I can report that Chang’s Guarneri fared much better in the live BBC Radio 3 broadcast of the concert. It was exhausting just watching the energy that Chang expended in the brief Presto, Finale a furious moto perpetuo that only took just over 4 minutes to perform. Oh yes, the impressive oboe solo that commences the Andante was played with such melting beauty.

After suitable refreshment the Bridgewater audience was treated to the much loved and enduring repertoire staple Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op.95 ‘From the New World’. Sanderling gathered together his sections with assurance and commitment providing a performance of natural energy that felt a notch or two above the standard of playing this work often produces. Sanderling’s convincing interpretation eliminated any unessential temperament and surface gloss leaving a ‘New World Symphony’ that sounded freshly minted and judiciously paced. I loved the freshly sprung rhythms and the passion and power of the opening movement. The haunting pathos of the captivating Largo featured the reedy cor anglais on such splendid form. Highly impressive was Sanderling’s balancing of the orchestral textures and tempi in the Scherzo, and the bold and forthright Finale contained substantial forward momentum combined with compelling drama.

Throughout the concert the well rounded Dresden brass blazed persuasively and the unified string sound contained an attractive bloom. Delightfully pleasing to the ear the woodwind section was kept extremely busy with the enviable combination of the oboe and flute principals deserving significant praise. Playing with impeccable rapport under Sanderling’s baton the Dresden Philharmonic came off brilliantly in this concert.

Michael Cookson