Rienzi – Overture
The Miraculous Mandarin – Suite
Sinfonia domestica, Op.53
Orquesta de Valencia
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 24 October, 2008
Venue: Palau de la Música, Valencia
Finding myself in Valencia some friends informed me of this attractive programme playing in the Palau de la Música, and ever interested in hearing a new orchestra and experiencing concerts in new halls I attended. The hall itself is both attractive and comfortable with a clear and extremely immediate acoustic. This has definite advantages in that virtuosity will have its due prominence – but also disadvantages in that any imprecision in ensemble will be glaringly obvious. To some extent the performances demonstrated both.
Orquesta de Valencia was led by its chief conductor, the Tel Aviv-born Yaron Traub. He conducted all the pieces from memory. The overture to “Rienzi” started promisingly, with some fine dynamic control from the brass, but alas there were moments when some slightly-off intonation and scrappy ensemble detracted from the energetic performance. Like the complete opera, the overture needs pace and gusto to retain its interest – which Traub and his players certainly gave it. The more forward-looking moments of string-writing – those that anticipate Tannhauser – made their mark and the big themes were winningly played and contrasted. As always, the piece ends dangerously close to bombast, but that is surely part of its nature.
Any anxiety that there would be lack of subtlety in this programme was immediately dispelled by the way the orchestra launched into the cacophonous start of The Miraculous Mandarin suite. Here was all the clarity of texture one could wish for in the orchestral depiction of the dangerous environment of the ballet’s narrative. The strings were wiry and menacing, the woodwinds athletic and the percussion almost brutal. The whole had rhythmic vitality and energy. Some of the solo playing from the clarinet, flute and oboe was absolutely first rate – indeed the woodwind section of the orchestra is probably its most distinctive asset. The sinuous dance that lures the Mandarin to his grisly fate was compelling in its gradual development and the frenetic brassy end was suitably shattering and abrupt.
Woodwind excellence was also a feature of the Strauss. His musical equivalent of a magazine “a day in the life of….” sort of article is not frequently given concert outings, even though it is an attractive work from a musical perspective. That may be the result of the evident personal nature of the domestic events. It’s less obviously comic than the opera “Intermezzo” and at times almost trips over too far into mawkish sentimentality.
The complex interplay of the themes that represent Strauss and his famously ‘spirited’ wife Pauline was given full and witty rein by the Valencian orchestra, with vivid depictions of domestic rows. The strings were wonderfully warm and luxuriant in the evening and night-time scenes from the lullaby onwards (again superb woodwinds). The dominance of the themes associated with Pauline though the episode of love-making was subtly evident. Traub handled the transition from slow sleep and gentle waking to the activity of the morning depicted in the finale with fine regard for texture. He managed also to keep the pace fluid and not to make the emotional passages wearing. The exuberant ending bought the evening to a joyous close.