Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra

Oberon – Overture
Des Knaben Wunderhorn [selection]
Brahms, orch. Schoenberg
Piano Quartet in G minor, Op.25

Matthias Goerne (baritone)

Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Järvi

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 13 August, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Paavo Järvi is a collector of orchestras – he is Music Director of both the Cincinnati Symphony and Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Artistic Adviser of the Estonian National Symphony (Järvi was born in Tallinn) and Artistic Director of Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, and he is announced as Music Director of Orchestre de Paris from 2010.

Great things appear to be happening in Frankfurt. This Prom begun with a magically floated horn solo to launch the Overture to Weber’s final opera “Oberon” (final anything, in fact) and riposted by lightly tripping woodwinds and lovingly shaped lower strings. Brass was beautifully integrated with strings, the clarinet spun an insinuating line, and virility and lucidity was to the fore in the fast sections.

Matthias Goerne is a well-seasoned practitioner of Mahler’s settings of the Romantic, naturalistic folk-poetry collected under the title of “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (The Boy’s Magic Horn). This 8-song, 45-minute sequence was rather too much, made monotonous by the same voice and by juxtaposing ‘similar’ types of mood rather than seeking optimum contrast. Beginning with ‘Der Schildwache Nachtlied’ (which was listed second in the programme), Goerne (surprisingly only now making his Proms debut) impressed with his ease of delivery and his conversational approach but not afraid to ‘bark’ (Sergeant-Major-like in the militaristic songs) when required. Nevertheless there was a lack of edge that was compounded by Järvi clarifying textural niceties (masterly orchestral manoeuvres nonetheless); consequently there was often musical magic but a suppression of the macabre and ironic. If ‘Lob des hohen Verstandes’ (Mahler having a go at his critics, who are likened to donkeys) was too deadpan, then ‘Urlicht’ (played attacca to ‘Das irdische Leben’) was raptly contemplative, the highlight of the group.

In 1937 Schoenberg decided to orchestrate Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet (completed in 1851) because he liked it, it was (then) seldom performed and if it was it wasn’t well played. Although Schoenberg’s orchestration is of respect and affection it is also whimsical, not without humour and goes further than Brahms would have contemplated or would have approved of. If there is one failing it is that Schoenberg adds in much detail and decoration; after a while splashes of percussion, horns gurgling, and the like, become irksome. Yet the occasional airing is usually a pleasure, and it certainly was here.

The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra played, as throughout the evening, with character, flexibility and responsiveness in a very well prepared performance that leapt eagerly off the platform, Järvi’s penchant for clarity bringing out every strand of Schoenberg’s scoring, sometimes too spot-lit, but with a care for balance and timbre that was impressive. Solo work was again notable – this is an orchestra with irrepressible principals – and Järvi caught well Brahms’s (and Schoenberg’s) fire, swing, peasantry and melodic outpouring, pointing the music with lightness, burnish and eagerness. The gypsy music of the finale was a real knees-up, some episodes suggesting the arrival of a salon sophisticate, and, after much stomping vitality and a cimbalom-suggesting episode, the coda was perfectly timed as an exhilarating pay-off.

Brahms (again orchestrated by another, Albert Parlow probably) was offered as an encore, the Sixth of his 21 Hungarian Dances (the originals are piano/four hands) – similarly given a richly diverse treatment and played with fastidious command of dynamics, exacting balance, technical sureness and enviable unanimity – and with a commitment that made and left a vivid impression.

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