Swedish RSO and Harding End European Tour in Zurich on High Note

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Dvořák, Brahms: Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Daniel Harding (conductor), Tonhalle Zurich, 21.5.2017. (JR)

Daniel Harding: Credit - Luca Piva 2010.
Daniel Harding (c) Luca Piva

Dvořák – Violin Concerto Op.53
Brahms – Symphony No.1 Op.68

Stockholm’s Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra brought their European tour to a close in Zurich this weekend, but there were neither signs of fatigue nor ennui. The first half of the concert should have been Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Sol Gabetta, but she has recently cancelled a series of concerts for “personal reasons” (pregnancy, I read); the orchestra was extremely fortunate to garner the services of Christian Tetzlaff, no less, and the work was changed to Dvořák’s Violin Concerto.

The concerto received a muscular and energetic reading from both Tetzlaff and Harding, the audience relishing Tetzlaff’s artistry as well as Dvořák’s melodic invention. It is a mystery today why Joachim, for whom the piece was written, refused to play it after many years revising it with the composer. Tetzlaff (I think it was Tetzlaff: the lighting in the Tonhalle was so gloomy, I could hardly see his face from halfway back in the stalls!) danced at times, in almost all movements; his enjoyment was infectious. As an encore, Tetzlaff gave us the presto movement from Bartók’s “sonata for solo violin”, commissioned from the composer by Menuhin in 1944. It sounded like an Irish jig sandwiched between muted swarms of bumblebees: charming.

The second half belonged to Brahms and his mighty First Symphony. Harding has received accolades for his interpretation of this work in the past and it was not hard to hear why. He needed no score. This was a first-class performance all round, the orchestra impressed in every section even if they may not quite have the Rolls Royce sound of a premier orchestra. The orchestra can look back on many fine chief conductors, Celibidache, Blomstedt, Salonen, Svetlanov and Honeck (with Gergiev as one of their two conductors laureate). Harding has been in the post since 2007 and, despite recently taking on the Orchestre de Paris, has committed himself to stay with the Stockholmers until 2020 – he visibly holds them in deep affection and the feeling is clearly mutual.

We knew we would be in for a treat as soon as Harding doled out the weighty, measured opening of the Brahms; the remainder of the movement was full-blooded and exhilarating. Harding says he has never had formal conducting lessons – he has however watched Rattle and Abbado at very close quarters. In the andante we appreciated the exquisite contributions of principal oboe, clarinet and violin (by the leader). The final movement gave the horn section their chance to shine. The final pages were full of warm Brahmsian glow; it had been a glorious performance. No encore, so perhaps the Swedes were tired after all – they just hugged each other as at the end of a marathon.

Thanks are due to the concert’s promoter Hochuli Konzert, who arranged for the orchestra to visit Zurich as part of their Neue Konzertreihe Zurich.

Harding now flies off to Paris for two performances with the Orchestre de Paris of Mahler’s Second Symphony (“Resurrection”) on May 24th and 25th in the Philharmonie, a concert he will repeat in Vienna on May 29th. Tempting.

John Rhodes

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