Altinoglu Has Rhythm: Entertaining Gershwin, de Falla and Ravel

 SwitzerlandSwitzerland Gershwin, de Falla and Ravel: Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Alain Altinoglu (conductor and piano) Tonhalle, Zurich 27.1.2013 (JR)

Gershwin: An American in Paris
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
De Falla: The three-cornered hat (Suites 1 and 2)
Ravel: Boléro

Alain Altinoglu Photo Fred Toulet

Alain Altinoglu   Photo Fred Toulet

There can be, when financial times for orchestras are hard, no apologies for a brazenly populist programme. This concert was unashamedly aimed at the middle-brow and younger members of Zurich’s populace and judging from the jam-packed hall (5 rows of extra seats being required at the back, almost outside the hall itself) and with a large number of children and teenagers present, it was a commercial and marketing success. Starting at 5 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon also ensured a full house.

The conductor, Alain Antinoglu, has been conducting The Flying Dutchman at Zurich’s opera house to great acclaim. He is in the Dudamel mould, both physically and in vigorous and expressive conducting style. The audience took to him instantly.

The first half of the concert was dedicated to Gershwin. First “An American in Pariscomplete with car-horns. Altinoglu was clearly at home with the style of music and successfully conveyed the sense of rhythm to the orchestra, used to much more traditional fare. The atmosphere of the big city was beautifully evoked, with special plaudits to the exceptional principal trumpet Heinz Saurer, who sounded like he had just stepped out of a jam session.

Then on to “Rhapsody in blue”. Orchestra Stage Manager Ivo Schmid (his name is relevant, keep reading!) moved the Steinway into place and the conductor took to the keyboard. Altinoglu proved a most accomplished pianist even though he looked in pain and was not quite finger-perfect. He had to bounce up every now and again to keep the orchestra going and inevitably there were one or two lapses in ensemble. The principal clarinet could not quite keep the glissando opening together; it’s just not the orchestra’s core repertoire. I also wished at times for the less constrained polished feeling and more extrovert sound of an American orchestra. The piece itself has its weaknesses, sounding in places too much like Radio 2.

We were granted two encores before the interval. First, a spirited Scott Joplin “Ragtime” – with added Wagner to start from Altinoglu on the keyboard. Then on came said  Ivo Schmid, the Orchestra’s Stage Manager again, wielding a double bass, to accompany (most competently) Altinoglu again in “I got rhythm”. Members of orchestra and audience were most impressed!

The second half turned away from America, to Spain. The “Three-Cornered Hat Suites” suffered somewhat from having to follow two brash pieces and seemed a mite under-powered. However both bassoonist and cor anglais impressed.

No lack of power though for the final “Bolero” which may be hackneyed but by its close packs a punch. The two impeccable drummers were properly brought down stage, but whilst the work allows all the woodwind and brass principals to shine, the star of the piece was – I thought – the principal trombone with a particularly creamy tone.

Youngsters were being approached before and after the concert by marketing staff with clipboards and questionnaires. It did not need that to see that this exciting and jazzy choice of programme was in great demand and hugely enjoyed – not only by the younger members of the audience. The septuagenarians had smiles on their faces too.

John Rhodes