United Kingdom Wagner, Rachmaninov, Brahms: Andrei Korobeinikov (piano), Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra/Michael Sanderling (conductor), Cadogan Hall, London, 5.10.2015 (AS)
Wagner – Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Overture
Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1
Brahms – Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
Just as the Vienna Symphony Orchestra has always existed in the shadow of the more prestigious Vienna Philharmonic, so has the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra played second fiddle to one of the world’s oldest orchestras, the Staatskapelle Dresden. But the Philharmonic is also a long-standing institution, having been founded in 1870. Since 2011 its musical director has been Michael Sanderling, and he and his orchestra are at present touring the UK.
The Cadogan Hall concert was given under the banner of the venue’s Zurich International Orchestra series, in common with the two recent Basel Symphony Orchestra appearances. Given that Cadogan Hall’s seating capacity is only 950 it is a particular shame that all three concerts only attracted half-full houses, especially since the Dresden concert contained an attractive programme.
Performances of Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto are comparatively rare compared with those of the more popular Second and Third concertos. This seems a pity, for the work’s combination of youthful inspiration tempered by mature revision – the concerto was originally written when the composer was 18, and rewritten when he was 44 – surely places it on the same level as the two later compositions. It has the same scintillating writing for the soloist, and abounds with typically long, gorgeous Romantic melodies.
The Concerto proved to have an outstanding exponent in the shape of Andrei Korobeinikov. Visually the Moscow-born pianist did not create a good initial impression, since in contrast with the male members of the orchestra, who were immaculately attired in white tie and tails, Korobeinikov emerged on to the platform wearing an open-neck shirt and a lounge suit that looked as if he had slept in it. But all this was forgotten when he started playing. His technique was prodigious, but it was put at the service of a style that was at once very expressive and poetic, but also had a lofty, aristocratic mein. In fact it was startlingly similar to the nature of the composer’s performance in his recording made in 1940. No praise could be higher than that.
Of particular note also was Sanderling’s handling of the orchestra. He was totally at one with the soloist at every point, getting a whip-crack quality of attack to match the rhythmic command of the soloist, and he secured some lovely, heart-easing string playing in the outer movements. And in the central slow movement both pianist and conductor achieved a simple, directly expressed quality of beauty that was magical.
Sanderling had begun the concert with a vigorous, uplifting account of Wagner’s Meistersinger Overture: it also had a touch of light-heartedness that reflected the less than serious aspects of the opera itself. Already the warmth and discipline of the strings impressed, though the woodwind blend was not of the highest quality, and if the brass had an attractively mellow, burnished quality there were some rough edges that you don’t hear in world-class ensembles. Nevertheless the Dresden Philharmonic is an estimable ensemble, which to judge from the list of players still almost entirely consists of indigenous Germans: and in fact it still preserves something of the qualities of central European ensembles of the past.
Michael Sanderling, too, is a very “German” conductor, for he was brought up in the former Eastern bloc of the then divided country, where he observed the art of his father, the master conductor Kurt Sanderling. These qualities he showed in his account of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony. The first movement was taken at a measured basic tempo, one that verged on the point of becoming a little sticky but didn’t quite, due to the conductor’s skill in varying the pulse and managing the music’s inner tensions. The Andante moved easily and unhurriedly while developing a striking cumulative dramatic force – again this was Old World State music making by a comparatively young man. Unexpectedly the Allegro giocoso third movement was taken quite quickly, but this proved to be an effective ploy, since it formed an effective prelude to the wonderful passacaglia last movement. Here Sanderling bought out the differing nature of the variations with much skill, while preserving the momentum of the musical argument and making the architectural structure of the movement as a whole perfectly clear. A well-contrived final climax brought the performance to a satisfying end. If this wasn’t an interpretation that one would wish to live with as a recording, heard on its own terms as a live performance it was a stimulating experience.