Guest-conductor this week with the DSO, Fabien Gabel launched into Don Juan with a vigour and swashbuckling athleticism that found Lenau’s version of the philanderer in peak stalking form, although some detailing was not as vivid or as precise as one might like, nor solos as poetic or indeed as assured as intended (Gabel didn’t single out any principals for applause), although – musically – there was plenty of room for emotional power, seduction (lots of heavy breathing from the conductor) and heroics – until this particular Don comes a cropper and sinks into misty exile, yet overall Gabel’s approach was not especially distinctive or revealing, competing (as any interpreter must in this work) with such hot-line conductors as Kempe, Reiner and Szell, as recorded yardsticks.
A rather different Richard Strauss surfaces in Burleske, music of caprice, wit, song-like felicitation and dancing swirl. Launched by a timpani solo, with a memorable motif that will return, not least with interventionist drama, Bernard Chamayou brought affection, Lisztian bravura and the suggestion of nightclub-pianist grin. Throughout, the DSO and Gabel were stylish accompanists as well as masters of the many twists and turns this intriguing piece possesses.
Following intermission, Gabel opened Brahms’s Second Symphony with generous phrasing, distinguished by some very secure horn-playing and silky-smooth cellos, the development dovetailing a sense of the exposition’s increasing intensity and tempo, so that no repeat was needed (and I rarely think that); Gabel successfully melded Brahms’s Classical and Romantic sides, never losing the line but not mechanical either. An expressive burden informed the slow movement, and it was a spacious Adagio, too, eliciting an enamoured response from the DSO, meltingly shaped at times and also baring the music’s agitated soul. The grace of the third movement was delightfully distilled before brusque (if here dynamic) contrasts breeze in. The Finale was certainly con spirito, if with well-timed relaxations and shadows, the Symphony ultimately breaking-free to triumph, played resolutely. If there was some odd camerawork at times then the sound from the Al Glancy Control Room was consistently excellent.