Concentration and Unity from Frankfurt Based Orchestra


Brahms, Bruckner: Hilary Hahn (violin),HR-Sinfonieorchester/Paavo Järvi, Semperoper, Dresden, Tuesday 4.6.2014 (MC)

Hilary Hahn, photo Peter Miller
Hilary Hahn, photo Peter Miller

Dresden Music Festival 2014

Brahms: Violin Concerto
Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 in D minor (3rd Version of 1889)

I couldn’t have had a finer introduction to this season’s Dresden Music Festival than this stunning concert of Brahms and Bruckner performed by the HR-Sinfonieorchester and held in the plush surroundings of the packed Semperoper. This was my first look at the HR-Sinfonieorchester, the Frankfurt based radio orchestra of  Hessischer Rundfunk, the public broadcaster of the German state of Hesse. I’m not sure about the situation in Germany but in the UK the HR-Sinfonieorchester is much less well known than the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the NDR Sinfonieorchester. Relatively unsung maybe but not deficient in ability as in the hands of principal conductor Paavo Järvi the Frankfurt orchestra demonstrated an unerring unity of ensemble together with remarkable levels of concentration.

In the first half of the concert American soloist Hilary Hahn played the Brahms Violin Concerto conveying all the artistry that one has come to expect from this consummate performer. In many respects, particularly her playing, Hahn reminded me strongly of Anne-Sophie Mutter at the same age. Right from the opening bars I felt Hahn was totally immersed in the music, playing with an assurance that comes from a great talent combined with diligent and thorough preparation. Keen and alert throughout, the infectiously enthusiastic Hahn looked as if she was revelling in every note, unlike a number of her soloist colleagues who often look as if they have just had a tooth extracted. Dressed in a silver-grey strapless gown, Hahn with her affectionate yet controlled playing brought a newly minted freshness to the Adagio that took me back to my first hearings of the work. Hahn’s Vuillaume violin from 1864 sounded marvellous emitting a lovely nutty timbre heard to wonderful advantage during her opening movement cadenza by Joachim. You could hear a pin drop so captivated was the packed audience. Totally sympathetic the playing from Järvi’s Frankfurt players from the first note to the last served to gladden the heart. The audience applause was long and hard, winning a Bach encore from Hahn.

Paavo Jarvi, photo Ventre Photos-500
Paavo Jarvi, photo Ventre Photos-500

After the interval Maestro Järvi conducted the Bruckner Symphony No. 3 in D minor using the third version of 1889, the composer’s final thoughts on this highly melodic and much revised score.  The title ‘Wagner’ is sometimes used after Richard Wagner the dedicatee of the D minor score. It has been a number of years since I heard the Third Symphony, a work overshadowed by the great popularity of the later symphonies in particular the fourth, seventh, eighth and ninth, so it rarely gets a look in. Järvi tackled Bruckner’s awesome structures with such resilient assurance ensuring a rich orchestral sonority. The spacious dynamics selected by Järvi were masterly, culminating in stunning climaxes of remarkable weight and impact. At a couple of points I felt the surging orchestral force pushing me back into the seat. Assisted by the wonderful acoustic in the Semperoper a pleasing amount of fine orchestral detail was revealed, especially in the woodwind; a feature so often clouded on recordings. Although this was a strong all-round performance I must mention the string section which was in remarkable form especially the high strings demonstrating playing of an elevated standard so rarely heard in the concert hall. Most remarkable of all, from a man who was a distinct failure with women, in the wonderful Adagio Bruckner was certainly able to provide an intense emotional impact of love and romance.

With performances as excellent as these from the HR-Sinfonieorchester it is hard to countenance the degree of criticism thrown at Brahms and Bruckner when these works first appeared.

Michael Cookson

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