United Kingdom Mozart, Schoenberg, Strauss: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 21.10.2015 (AS)
Mozart – Serenade No. 10 in B flat, K361, Gran Partita
Schoenberg – Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4
Strauss – Der Rosenkavalier – Suite No. 1
It would have been perfectly possible for the 13 players who are needed for the Gran Partita to turn in a thoroughly satisfactory performance without a conductor. Sometimes it is played (and has been recorded) by such an independent group. But I doubt whether even the most sensitive and experienced musicians could have contrived an interpretation such as we heard in this concert under Sakari Oramo’s leadership. It was a very expressive, almost Romantic reading of the score; rather old-fashioned and thus different from what we often hear nowadays. For instance, the opening Largo was played in quite a slow, deliberate fashion, before breaking into a beautifully floated, sensitively nuanced account of the movement’s Molto allegro section. Notable also was the quite soft-grained projection of the second Minuet with two trios, the first trio taken quite a bit faster than the minuet, the second trio by contrast paced only a fraction more quickly.
The short, in this case warmly phrased Adagio gave way to the second minuet with two trios, jaunty in nature, with the trios in this case kept up to the same tempo, but the second phrased in a very detailed fashion – it was a very “Viennese” effect. Also of particular note was the way Oramo introduced particularly subtle changes of pace to point the different qualities of the sixth movement’s variations. His most satisfying reading ended with a brisk, bouncy finale. The playing was of high quality, with outstanding contributions from Richard Hosford (first clarinet) and Richard Simpson (first oboe).
After the interval the string sections of the orchestra now assembled to play Schoenberg’s early masterpiece, inspired by a Richard Dehmel poem and cast in one lengthy movement. This work is quite often played in its original version for string sextet, which has its own, distinct virtues. It’s not a case as to which is the better, for both have specific and different qualities. There is most certainly a need for a conductor of the orchestral version, without whom the strong contrasts and the ebb and flow of the work’s emotional nature could not be brought out.
Oramo was very successful in getting to the heart of the work’s heavily Romantic, darkly intense nature. The mysterious, hushed atmosphere at its soft, ominous opening was beautifully conveyed, and the developing emotions of the two lovers who are the subject of Dehmel’s poem were strongly conveyed in response to Schoenberg’s increasingly potent invention, sometimes wild and frenetic in its passionate expression as he takes conventional tonality to its limits. The BBC players responded brilliantly to Oramo’s characterful, pungently communicative direction.
At the end of this work the concert (with the interval) had already lasted two hours, but more was in store in the shape of the Strauss Rosenkavalier Suite, for which the full orchestra now at last assembled. Oramo secured a warm, sympathetic and affectionate performance and if this item provided a slight anti-climax the fault lay in the nature of the suite’s set of sequences arranged for orchestra, since they are rather botched and don’t make a satisfactory entity. It seems almost certain that this 1945 creation is not by Strauss himself (how could it be?), and it’s not entirely clear who was the guilty party, but it is time that a new and more satisfactory suite of this wonderful music was put together. Maybe this could be based on the sequences that Strauss himself chose to conduct for his 1926 recording (these were extracted from his arrangement of the score to accompany a silent film). It is a much more coherent selection, and contains a specially written Presentation March that is well worth hearing.