Bringuier’s Sibelius Has Its Strengths

SwitzerlandSwitzerland   Debussy, Mozart, Sibelius  Lionel Bringuier (conductor), Andreas Janke (violin), Gilad Karni (viola)  Tonhalle Orchester, Tonhalle, Zurich   26.3.15  (JR)

Debussy:       Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Mozart :         Sinfonia concertante in E flat K 364
Sibelius :      Symphony No. 2

 Lionel Bringuier’s current strengths lie, not unnaturally, in French music and Debussy’s impressionistic and sublime snippet, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune was right up his boulevard. He coaxed enchanting sounds from the orchestra, his movements flowed, and Sabine Poyé Morel’s soft-toned and golden flute delighted the ear (Boulez said this piece was the start of modern music).

 Mozart’s ever popular “double concerto” filled the rest of the first half of this satisfying concert and the soloists were one of the violin Concertmasters of the Tonhalle, Andreas Janke and one of the Concertmasters of the Violas, Gilad Karni. The benefit of two members of the orchestra as soloists, it need hardly be mentioned, is that they played as one, a good deal of joint rehearsal clearly having been lavished on the piece. Janke stands more than six foot tall, Karni much shorter, so it did rather look like father and son, or Little and Large, except that Karni is older than Janke.  There was much visible and audible affection between the two as they co-ordinated their entries. Most of the time my attention was focussed on the viola: Karni had more stage presence than Janke, whose instrument occasionally had a shrill edge. Karni’s honeyed viola, however, warmed the cockles of the heart, his commitment was the more deeply demonstrated. The piece itself has tunes which (almost) everyone recognises; I do, however, find the slow movement far too long.  Bringuier’s accompaniment gave no cause for complaint. There was too much premature applause between movements forcing Karni to hold up his hand to prevent it getting out of hand. Sadly, he could do little about the incorrigible coughers, one of whom almost destroyed the Sibelius.

 Janke and Karni gave us a wonderful encore: Norwegian composer Johan Halvarson’s Passacaglia for violin and viola on a theme by Handel. The audience and orchestra gave the soloists a rapturous reception.

 It is probably still too early to judge Bringuier’s strengths in non-French repertoire. A musical friend, after the concert, simply uttered “Better than expected” which shows that some members of the local jury are still out but that there is much promise from this rising star. This was a young man’s Sibelius, from someone whose roots are closer to the Côte d’Azur than the Baltic, but it was none the worse for that. Tempi were often a mite exaggerated, which kept the orchestra on its toes, but climaxes were very well constructed and the orchestra, in all sections, proved their mettle. Special praise must go to Philippe Litzler for his crisp and sweet trumpet contribution and Christian Hartmann for his nimble and effective timpani (and delicate crotales (antique cymbals) in the Debussy).

 The orchestra already organises so-called “Tonhalle Late” concerts, starting at 10 p.m. when most “ordinary” Tonhalle subscribers are drinking their cocoa and putting on their pyjamas; these are aimed at a younger audience (with substantial ticket reductions for those under 25), a fairly short dose of classical music followed, in another part of the hall, “live-sets, DJs and dance-floor”. I am told (as I am in the wrong age bracket) they are very popular, my daughter’s whole school are given free tickets: anything to lower the average age of the audience is to be encouraged (after all, Bringuier is not yet 30). In the Tonhalle Late this week the orchestra played the Debussy and Mozart, though I did wonder whether the Sibelius might not have been more attractive. Anyhow, the orchestra has now launched – managed by schoolchildren – “TOZ (Tonhalle Zurich) Discover” aimed at those aged 16 and over, also starting at 10 p.m., with – after the classical section – elements of jazz and other musical genres. The idea is highly commendable; the proof of the pudding, however, as the elderly coughers pass on to the great concert hall in the sky, will be in the eating.


John Rhodes



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