United Kingdom Wagner, Elgar, Beethoven: Sol Gabetta (cello), Dresden Philharmonic, Michael Sanderling (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 11.10.2015 (SRT)
Wagner: Meistersinger Overture
Elgar: Cello Concerto
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 Eroica
The Dresden Philharmonic’s UK tour arrives in the Usher Hall, a venue that suits them perfectly. I’d read in some of their London reviews that the Cadogan Hall was too cramped a venue for their sound, but there was no such danger here.
And what a sound! The Meistersinger overture was the perfect choice to show them off at the confident best: luxurious, self-assured strings, with fantastically bright trumpets and a ripe lower brass tone that crowns the sound, together with admirably precise winds in the Apprentice music.
Going from this into Elgar is in one sense like going from Yin to Yang, but the beautiful string legato worked every bit as well, achieving a beautiful hush in the Adagio. Sol Gabetta provided some superstar presence on the solo line, conjuring up a sound that was unfailingly rich, deeply resonant and full of emotion. She never hogged the sound unnecessarily, though, and there were plenty of times when she sounded like an extension of the orchestra in its richness. Her attention to detail was most impressive, though, as in the way the main theme of the scherzo seemed to tremble into existence at its first appearance, her razor-sharp semiquavers standing out against the orchestral string legato. I loved the way a palpable sense of wistfulness seemed to enter her playing in the final pages, the music seeming almost to unwind chromatically, out of which the final flourish erupted all the more dramatically. In a lovely touch, she then led the whole cello section in a strangely beautiful encore which, I regret, I didn’t recognise.
And then dash it all if the orchestra didn’t then transform themselves into a period band for the second half! With antiphonal violins, minimal vibrato and natural trumpets and timps, they tackled Beethoven’s Eroica symphony with the technique of an “authentic” orchestra while retaining the same luxurious sound I’d heard in the Wagner. I found the effect very exciting; utterly beautiful while being, at the same time, exhilarating. The funeral march took a few bars to get going (with some slack lack of coordination between the basses and violins) but the slightly harder edge to the sound made it every bit as compelling, while the Scherzo bristled with electricity, and the finale seemed to gather in momentum as it built towards its exciting coda. And to think that this orchestra is supposed to be Dresden’s B team!
(They then went and spoilt it all with a thoroughly inappropriate encore of the William Tell gallop, but let’s not talk about that…)