Hannah Eisendle (born Vienna 1993)

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

The Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, Bartók stopping approximately two-thirds into his score for this lurid tale dressed as a pantomime-ballet, was initially a little pedestrian if disciplined in the playing, later episodes eerie and suspenseful with some characterful woodwind contributions, and greater theatrical tension evident, with plenty of sculptured detail, yet the chase music that ends this sequence was rather restrained, percussion polite, the tempo grossly retarded at one point, dramatically damaging, and speeding up couldn’t disguise that the opening tameness had returned. (Concert performances of the Suite by Abbado and Rozhdestvensky remain supreme.)

There followed a spirited account of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, Benjamin Grosvenor not shirking the virtuosity needed, but not glorying in it either, a ‘first among equals’ performance, which allowed the ORF members to also shine, Marin Alsop ensuring a lively response throughout, and some touches from Grosvenor in the middle movement were especially gratifying … but the central section of the Finale was over-indulged, which does the climax no favours, yet there was no doubting the scintillation of the closing pages.

Cue a generous Grosvenor encore, Ravel’s Jeux d’eau, not the subtlest reading, surprisingly; there’s greater mystery therein but the music certainly glistened.

Following the interval, the UK premiere of Hannah Eisendle’s Heliosis (2021), commissioned by the ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk) … a desert, the burning sun, sunstroke … an explosive and rhythmic piece, somewhat jazzy, also unpredictable in the directions taken and imaginatively orchestrated, cinematic, big band, always engaging, fleet – all over in six eventful minutes, a notable calling-card to further investigate Eisendle’s output. She is also a pianist and a conductor.

As for Dvořák’s magnificent Seventh Symphony, the first movement was on the hasty side, with some ungainly turns. Maybe Alsop was trying to jettison connections to Brahms, but Dvořák had managed that anyway (Colin Davis had no truck with Brahms being present in the score – as an interviewer once found out in a pre-concert talk!), and the music can take a broader and darker approach, witness Ozawa and the Vienna Philharmonic in the Royal Festival Hall many years ago. The ORF players sounded a little harried, some details pinched in, but with greater space afforded the slow movement there was now much that was richly expressive. The Scherzo lacked the last degree of Slavonic fire, although the Trio was nicely wistful, and the Finale surged along – precise trumpets if dull timpani, with bubbly bassoons (the latter often overlooked) teasing the ear – with just enough broadening at the right moments, and a steadfast approach to, and delivery of, the coda, although the ultimate chord was ambivalent, maybe slightly fluffed.

Cue two encores, an absurd piece by Gerhard Winkler, Pussy Polka, connected to the Russian “feminist protest and performance art group”, Pussy Riot … welcome back Mrs Slocombe … and Johann Strauss II’s Thunder and Lightning Polka, which favourably redressed the balance in terms of musical quality.