Thursday, April 15, 2021

Konserthuset Stockholm, Hötorget 8, Stockholm, Sweden

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

The resonance of the Konserthuset Stockholm – microphoned through a blend of hard edges, warm mid-tones and bass gravity – provided an appealingly appropriate acoustic for this lunchtime concert. Andris Nelsons, who last appeared with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in 2018, may have had few words to say in the interval but musically rose to the occasion with a splendidly shaped account of Dvořák’s 1880 Sixth Symphony. Emphasising his view of the composer as the quintessential Slavonic song-and-dance man, he crafted flexibly muscular outer movements (albeit omitting the exposition repeat of the first), a richly poetic, vocally arching Adagio (the highlight perhaps), and a gutsy ‘Furiant’ not short on dynamic contrasts.

Orchestrally it wasn’t blemish-free, but strings (antiphonal violins) and woodwind (piccolo in particular) had their moments, and the tuttis were nobly balanced, kettledrums contributing strident harmonic and cadential support, not afraid to be heard. Given the mood of the hour – non-invasive conductor in coaxing mood opening the throttle without pressing the issue, and a responsive, listening orchestra, each understanding the other’s intentions, speaking the music in a natural, unforced way free of clinical analytics – what, I wondered, might they do with Dvořák’s late tone-poems? Nelsons has the fantasy and ‘Czech-ness’, the rural shades, diapasons and drones of this music in his bones.

Weinberg’s 1967 Trumpet Concerto was written for Timofey Dokshitser, Soviet master supreme, who in January 1968 gave the premiere in Moscow under Kondrashin, recording it subsequently with Algis Žiūraitis. With its strongly argued opening ‘Etudes’, variously mysterious, powerfully coloured central ‘Episodes’, and final ‘Fanfares’ (did its patchwork of quotes, distortions and allusions have a bearing on Shostakovich’s later “crossroads in time” Fifteenth Symphony? – the two men were particularly close), it’s a work that leaves no room for anyone to hide. In places the exposed orchestral solos are nearly as dangerous as the trumpet’s (treacherous certainly to time and co-ordinate).

Håkan Hardenberger and Nelsons, long-standing friends, Nelsons himself a trumpet-player in younger days, have done this work quite a few times – a Leipzig Gewandhaus ‘live’ video was released last summer. Inevitably, given Hardenberger, there was plenty to admire, yet the performance, at twenty-four minutes, wasn’t without glitches, even suggestions of fatigue. Having measure of the structure, Nelsons took customary care to point details. Missing though was the pulverising attack and theatre, the swaggering brilliance and high-flying freedom, that Dokshitser and Žiūraitis brought to their Melodiya account – one which I, like so many Collets/Henry Stave Russophiles in the early-seventies, first got to know via a cherished HMV stereo transfer. Still unsurpassed – quicker, too, by two minutes.