Friday, September 29, 2023

hr-Sendesaal, Frankfurt

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Whatever the ‘modern’ concert repertory, be it Beethoven or Brahms, Stravinsky or Britten, Masaaki Suzuki, director and founder (in 1990) of the Bach Collegium Japan, illumines. Familiar as he is working and recording with concentrated forces, taking on the big mainstream orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Tonhalle Zürich, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France and Gothenburg Symphony comes naturally. His command of Mendelssohn’s posthumously published ‘Reformation’ Symphony impressed. Grandiose in gesture and depth yet lean in conception and lithe in articulation, placed, appropriately enough for Mendelssohn, the nineteenth-century’s pioneer Bach Revivalist, in a Bachian/Handelian soundworld – weighty, sharply attacked timpani, prominent woodwind, bright voiced trumpets cutting through the texture. He brought legerity and teasingly elegant shaping to the second movement – vivace but not too fast. And with the sensually toned Spanish flautista Clara Andrada de la Calle, envelopingly graceful, he took the opportunity (advocated by Chailly and Nézet-Séguin among others) to restore the rarely heard accompanied flute recitative/cadenza between slow movement and Finale, crossed out by the composer in the 1830 manuscript (Berlin Staatsbibliothek). With its Romantically hushed dynamics, tensioned tempos, tight strings (antiphonal violins), urgent counterpoints, Dresden Amens and Luther’s sixteenth-century ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’ circling the venue, D-major thunderously gloried, this was as enriching a performance as I’ve heard, Suzuki in noble, emotional overdrive – hands only, shock of swept-back white hair, frame vibrating with music and ensemble, kindly bespectacled smile …

Bach comprised the first half. The Fourth Orchestral Suite – (mildly audible) harpsichord and theorbo continuo – went on its way briskly if not always tidily, the Frankfurt players taking time to settle and adjust to the pacing of Suzuki’s phrasing and cadences within a relatively ‘wet’ acoustic, his dynamics (as relayed) paradoxically too big for the room. The Second Brandenburg Concerto (reduced forces) survived better. Here Laura Vukobratović (valve trumpet) joined London-based Tabea Debus (recorder), José Luis García Vegara and Florin Iliescu, the latter two respectively the orchestra’s solo oboe and concertmaster. Given the unanimity and artistry of such a concertino, a bright reading transpired – pulsed, robust speeds, relaxed only in the Vivaldian Andante, being of the essence.