Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen – 10th February

Octet for strings in E flat, Op.20
Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (arr. for wind ensemble by Andreas N. Tarkman)
Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave)
Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.25
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)

Nikolai Demidenko (piano)
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen conducted by Daniel Harding

Reviewed by: Jason Boyd

Reviewed: 10 February, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Young, adventurous and full of flair – this is how I perceive Daniel Harding and his main love, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, which Daniel Harding describes as an ambassador for the town, the orchestra formed by music students in 1980. Harding, Principal Conductor since in 1999, was elected by the orchestra.

Since then it has been a happy partnership, Harding able to experiment with different ideas and “realize my imagination”. Talking to Iain Burnside, Daniel Harding remarked that he has endeavored to combine a rich Germanic sound with the light transparency of Early Music, a background from which many of the orchestra’s members come. Certainly throughout the evening concert – overture, concerto, symphony – I felt I was listening to a group of soloists in that every melodic line was lucid.

The music of Mendelssohn seems an appropriate choice for this type of sound. All too often Mendelssohn is regarded as ’light music’, but I love the dark, sonorous tones he incorporates, particularly in the Hebrides overture.The concerto too is wonderfully imaginative.Harding succeeded in bringing out a more menacing side of Mendelssohn whilst still retaining that light, witty and mischievous quality.

The overture was taken at a sprightly tempo, full of energy and power, as was the Symphony. In one or two places a ritenuto was introduced, which was unconvincing. This may have been to heighten dramatic impact, but a straight transition from ’Andante con moto’ to ’Assai animato’ in the first movement is sufficient. It seemed as if Harding was saying ’guess what’s coming next’ – it would have been more of a surprise without the signposting.

With double basses on the left, cellos left-centre, and antiphonal violins, the orchestra’s ’old-fashioned’ layout equated to how Mendelssohn and all nineteenth-century composers appreciated this seating position.

Nikolai Demidenko matched the clarity of the orchestral sound. His enthusiasm and vigour shone through; his wonderfully crisp, light, well-articulated sound and scalic runs helped by his sparing use of pedal. This didn’t come at the expense of intensity.Demidenko proved very expressive and controlled with a pleasing lyrical quality in the second movement.

The string players were less well balanced in the Octet, it’s many beautiful melodies found within the first violin part were clouded over or completely lost against the sometimes thick, muddy sound of the cellos. The scherzo retained delicacy of touch, but all was lost again in the final ’Presto’.

The wind ensemble was well coordinated in Andreas Tarkman’s arrangement of Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a transcription both witty and imaginative.The interplay between the instruments in the scherzo was seamless.

This was a refreshing day of Mendelssohn, one of adventure and new experiences. Daniel Harding and his Orchestra are experimenting and will no doubt mature further as Harding continues to bring to reality what is in his subconscious. Kammerphilharmonie is a brave ambassador for Bremen, not shy about who they are, what they do, or how they do it.

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