Switzerland Fauré, Dvorak: Tonhalle Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder (conductor), Rebecca Bottone (soprano), Stéphane Degout (baritone), Zürcher Sing-Akademie (chorus-master Tim Brown), Zurich 22.11.2012 JR
Dvorak: Symphony No. 7
Sir Mark is always a welcome and popular guest at the Tonhalle in Zurich. This concert was a gala for the Friends of the Tonhalle.
Fauré regarded death not as a sad and painful shock but a happy deliverance; his Requiem has a gentle character, dominated by a feeling of faith in eternal rest. The first two movements, Introït et Kyrie and the Offertoire are somewhat sombre in tone and came across as dour. The chorus, the professional Zürich Sing-Akademie, trained by Tim Brown, formerly Music Director of Clare College,. Cambridge, and still Director of English Voices, were first-rate throughout, benefitting in the Offertoire from their regular a capella performances. The chorus tonight numbered 32, with slightly more female voices than mens’, with the notable inclusion of a male alto. This is a work most of the singers had clearly sung often.
Fauré complained that the bass-baritone selected for the première was awful, too operatic; no qualms on that account in this performance. Stéphane Dugout gave a straight-forward account, but initially rather dry of tone. The Sanctus was full of wonder, with fine soaring strings; the mens’ voices rang out to the back of the hall. Rebecca Bottone, a British soprano, gave an exemplary account of Pie Jesu, a bright, pure voice, as close to a young boy’s voice as one could wish. Elder kept the muted strings restrained. The audience held on to every note and everyone reached for the “replay” button at the end; rightly (unlike at the première) it was not repeated.
The tenors impressed greatly at the start of the Agnus Dei, enjoying their exposure. Dugout’s voice was better suited to the lower registers and the more dramatic passages of the Libera me. Finally it was left to the angelic sopranos to glide us up into vocal paradise. Special mention must be made of an excellent performance by fellow-Brit Peter Solomon on accompanying organ.
Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra has a reliable archive, showing that Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony has been given, over the years, by such illustrious conductors as Schmidt-Isserstedt, Barbirolli, Giulini, Leitner, and more recently Belohlavek and Janowsky. The work itself has weight not found in his earlier symphonies or Slavonic Dances, and bears the hallmarks of his reverence for Beethoven and Brahms (he was a friend of Brahms). Elder, not employing a score, had the measure of this symphony and delivered a fine performance. He whipped the orchestra into a frenzy in the opening Allegro, only to relax again for the Adagio where Isaac Duarte’s fine oboe solo stole the limelight. The lilting opening of the Scherzo made way for ample Sturm und Drang; and finally we were served an energetic and powerful Allegro with its glorious final bars.
Sir Mark: you are welcome back in Zurich, any time.