<United Kingdom Kodály, Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Barry Douglas (piano), Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra, Andrés Orozco-Estrada (conductor) Cadogan Hall, London, 3.2.2014 (RB)
Kodály – Dances of Galanta
Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 1 in F Sharp Minor Op 19
Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op 68, ‘Pastoral’
The young Colombian conductor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, was appointed Music Director of the Tonkünstler Orchestra in the 2009/10 season and is due to continue in that position until summer 2015. He was appointed earlier this year as the Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra – he will take up the post next year – and he is also due to conduct Glyndebourne’s production of Don Giovanni later this year, so we will be seeing quite a lot of him in the UK in future.
The programme comprised a group of mainstream crowd pleasers beginning with Kodály’s perennially popular Dances of Galanta. Kodály composed the piece in 1932 in response to a commission from the Budapest Philharmonic Society and drew upon a book of Hungarian gypsy dances for the work. The cellos opened the piece in dramatic fashion and Christoph Moser’s handling of the opening clarinet cadenza was slick and silky. There was a nice variety of textures and crisp articulation from the Tonkünstler Orchestra and they did an excellent job in capturing the fiery gypsy flavour of the principal rondo theme. The light hearted depiction of the drunken merrymakers was nicely drawn before Orozco-Estrada worked the piece up to a pitch of feverish excitement in the finale.
Barry Douglas set aside his conductor’s baton for the evening but reminded us why he won the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition all those years ago by giving a barnstorming account of Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto. The opening chords and octaves were powerful and dramatic and, in the ensuing virtuoso passagework, Douglas followed the example set by the composer himself by using the pedal judiciously and keeping the textures clean and transparent. In the cadenza Douglas whipped things up to an extraordinary degree of intensity but without sacrificing accuracy and the shaping of the complex thematic material was exemplary. Douglas coaxed a gorgeous burnished tone from his Steinway in the slow movement and was alive to the vocal nature of the writing while capturing the brooding, ruminative flavour of the music. Later in the slow movement he showed himself an able chamber musician and accompanist to the Tonkünstler Orchestra. The pianistic fireworks of the finale were dispatched with fleet-fingered bravura and the exchanges with Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra in the final section really set the hall alight. Great playing from Douglas – he should play Rachmaninov more often.
Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony was premiered in Vienna in 1808 so this music is embedded in the DNA of the Tonkünstler Orchestra who are currently resident in the Musikverein. Beethoven described it as “more an expression of feeling than painting” a point underlined by the title of the first movement (‘cheerful feelings aroused on approaching the countryside’). Orozco-Estrada’s interpretation was particularly good in its attention to detail and the judicious balance it struck between the Classical and Romantic elements of the piece. The Tonkünstler strings produced a fresh, vibrant sound in the opening movement – there was nothing hackneyed about this performance – and Orozco-Estrada coaxed a gorgeous blend of shifting orchestral colours from his players. The scene by the brook unfolded with a mellifluous classical grace and I was struck by the phrasing which was immaculate throughout. Flute, oboe and clarinet did a sterling job depicting the nightingale, quail and cuckoo at the end of the movement. The rustic merrymaking started off with a formal classical elegance but with the arrival of the trumpets the evening’s festivities really took flight and became a foot stamping jamboree. The pictorial effects in the storm sequence were brilliantly realised while the final ‘Shepherd’s Song’ was supremely lyrical and graceful. All of the lines and phrases were scrupulously shaped by Orozco-Estrada as the movement unfolded with radiant ease.
The audience were treated to a Strauss polka as an encore and we all left with a spring in our step.