Thursday, May 25, 2023

Konzerthaus, Brückstraße 21, 44135 Dortmund, Germany

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

One of those Cantabrigian spring days idling time away in Grantchester. Tea among the apple trees of The Orchard, planted in 1868 – Rupert Brooke country. A particularly excellent dinner in the Blue Ball Inn, a freehouse from 1767 – George III vintage. The Meadows, verdant and whispering, stretching down to the river … Hedgerow yarrow in near bloom, a pint to ward off a sudden chill in the air, sunset … Home by nightfall through the fields of the Stour Valley, a crescent moon suspended above, Venus, bright and brilliant, wending its way west, the last vestiges of horizon glow beckoning.

“The orchestral music of flowers … Sunflowers are the trumpets, the tuberoses the drums; the hydrangeas play the horns, hyacinths the clarinets, tulips the oboe and lilies the flute; violets are the bassoons. All the grasses and the leaves of trees play the fiddle; chestnut leaves take the viola, the long-needled pines are the bass violins.” The Berlin critic Adolf Bernhard Marx, writing in 1828. “The meadows, the wild flowers, the murmur of the gravelly brook.” Mendelssohn, the following year.

Midnight. At my desk, Nature’s panoply suffusing my thoughts. Mendelssohn, Berwald. Two ruggedly ‘northern’ Symphonies from the 1840s. Herbert Blomstedt – approaching ninety-six, sporting a Ukrainian ribbon. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe – “a uniquely talented ensemble”, he admires, “completely devoted to music, prepared to make any sacrifice for its art.” Not much to say really. These days, succumbing to age, he sits to conduct. He walks on and off frailly, slowly. He watches his players, immersed in their tuning ritual. Then, at an instant, without warning, his eyes brighten, his hands and fingers curve into action, alive to the music, supple in gesture. Re-living repertory that’s been with him for much of his life, he achieves miracles with the minimum of means, facial mobility, the slightest of shoulder language, getting the message across. Phrases converse, here long-breathed, there quizzically brief. Dynamics are dramatically immediate, contrasted but never excessive. Likewise fluctuations/changes of tempo are clean rather than muddily focussed, placing and punctuation being of the essence. Structure is everything. But beauty no less. Despite being quicker (by over a minute) than his 1991 San Francisco recording, the slow ‘Rustic Wedding’ scena of Berwald’s Fourth possessed a lingering autumnal magic, vaguely Scheherazade-esque, an interactive chamber ensemble before us, Blomstedt paternally nursing the moment, each footpath leading to some new magical place. Chiselled clarity permeated Mendelssohn’s Third – from lithe, feathered Scherzo, articulation emphatic, to a noble ‘Gathering of the Clans’ peroration, ‘chestnut’ violas as much as baying horns having their say.

Led by Lorenza Borrani, trademark temperament and vigour to the fore, boasting distinguished principals and players amid the ranks, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (antiphonal violins) rose to the occasion impeccably, impressing as much for unanimity of spirit and commitment as technical brilliance. The attention to slurs and dots, the precision unison playing, the full-throated tuttis, timpani underpinned, ensured an immersive, involving encounter. Grand artistry. [until May 25, 2026; subscription]