Photo, Mark Allan

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

It seemed a long way to come for this ‘safe’ programme, especially when this particular orchestra has a reputation for new and rare repertoire. But of course it plays the classics, too. The descriptive Mendelssohn, the location witnessed first-hand by the composer, was a little short of atmosphere and temperament, Cristian Măcelaru tending to isolate episodes, not least the very expressive ‘moment’ for clarinets, beautifully done. Following the interval, Brahms’s Third Symphony (given its quiet conclusion, it rarely ends a concert), somewhat earthbound in the exposition, more involving with the repeat, thoroughly rehearsed, very well played, yet despite Măcelaru’s best intentions – nothing controversial – this listener’s attention peaked and troughed during the outer movements, leaving the middle pair, here played attacca, to be the highlights; indeed, they were rather wonderful, flowing and subtle, not least the horn solo during the third.

It’s easy to underestimate Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, this concert’s centrepiece. It’s a splendid thing – noble, poetic, fiery – and has in Augustin Hadelich a sympathetic and virtuosic advocate, impressive throughout (fingering and bowing impeccable, rich tone), thoroughly idiomatic, whether bounding along or savouring the lyrical moments without favouring any one aspect, and inspiring Măcelaru and his players to an alert and detailed accompaniment (they have an imminent Warner Classics release of Concertos by Britten and Prokofiev). Dvořák’s slow movement was eloquent and impassioned, and the Finale danced uninhibitedly and with melodic embrace. Hadelich’s encores were Louisiana Blues Strut by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson and something I couldn’t catch the name of.

Following the Brahms, the orchestra’s extra was one of Dvořák’s delightful Legends, given with affection.

Cristian Măcelaru & Orchestre National de France record Camille Saint-Saëns’s complete Symphonies for Warner Classics.

Cristian Măcelaru (music director designate of Orchestre National de France) extends his contract as Chief Conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchester (Cologne) until the end of the 2024-25 season.