Der Freischütz – Overture
Clarinet Concerto in A, K622
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27
Julian Bliss (basset clarinet)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 30 November, 2016
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
A regular in concerts and for broadcasters, Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, here with a foot in both camps, enjoyed Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s powerful attention. It lived up to the expectations generated by the Overture to Der Freischütz, full of dark atmosphere initially and with the horn foursome secure and expressive. This was no run-through, and the London Philharmonic sported its full string strength, not least ten double basses. The performance, of dramatic flair, amply detailed and with dynamic variety, with tempos that allowed for eloquence and crisp articulation, aimed for and reached a blazing finish and was an excellent curtain-raiser…
And so it proved… Julian Bliss was meant to be premiering Wayne Shorter’s Clarinet Concerto, but it’s not yet finished, so that by Mozart proved a useful standby. Not that this account of it was in any way run of the mill, for, stylishly supported by reduced strings (founded on four cellos and three basses) and pairs of flutes, bassoons and horns, Bliss gave a beautifully judged reading: civilised, intimate, with nothing forced, yet so bubbly, and with some suspense-filled drops to pianissimo. Playing on a basset clarinet means a mellower tone for what could be termed autumnal music and those lower notes are easier to negotiate. The (Out of Africa) slow movement pulsed with romance and tender reminiscence and closed on a long-held dying ember of clarinet sound, while the Finale, shapely and lightly dancing, was disarming in its light, shade and subtlety. In short, it was rather special.
As indeed was the Rachmaninov, intense from the soulful depths of the opening to the exhilaration of the close. The LPO played superbly for Orozco-Estrada who married symphonic reach and relationships with intense emotions. Thus the first-movement exposition (not repeated) was presented with it subjects correlated, given a natural ebb and flow, and the development coursed with powerful thrust, tempestuous. It’s what happens at the end of this movement that is crucial; will the conductor be tempted to add timpani (usually), bass drum or tuba (examples exist) to the cellos and basses that alone should bring the Allegro to an end. Thankfully Orozco-Estrada trusted the score, lower strings (not least those ten-strong basses) forcefully curtailing the movement; and a word too for Simon Carrington who with minimum fuss doused any sonic overhang from his timpani to avoid spoiling the moment.
From there the performance maintained its high quality, and Orozco-Estrada certainly knows how to balance an orchestra, here with brass and percussion always clear but embedded rather than overt, and the LPO strings were in lustrous form. The Scherzo was festive, incisive and glowing – heart on sleeve at times, and why not – and the slow movement, aside from Thomas Watmough’s wonderfully lyrical, almost extemporised clarinet solo, was notable for Orozco-Estrada’s perfect calibration of taking the music to a climax and then coaxing from the players a contented, half-lit aftermath. With the Finale it was no surprise that he would be musically steadfast while ensuring full passionate outlet.
This then was a glorious sixty minutes, affecting and thrilling, the London Philharmonic fully responsive to Orozco-Estrada, who – cliché warning – knows what he wants and how to get it, and he works wonders with music’s inner workings; in the Rachmaninov the consideration paid to the trombones’ dynamics, phrases and timbral possibilities was continually ear-catching but never at the expense of the whole.