Thursday, February 24, 2022

La Palau de la Música, Barcelona

Guest Reviewer, Guy Holloway

L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande is a fabled band and its distinct timbre couldn’t be further away from that of its great Austrian or German counterparts, notably bright, transparent and sparkling. Of especial note is the perky and characterful woodwinds, which more than hold their own, not least when overall balance is curated by Jonathan Nott (OSR conductor since January 2017).

The concert’s first half was Mozart’s G-major Flute Concerto with Emmanuel Pahud. The OSR comprised reduced strings (violins arranged antiphonally, so too for the Mahler), two horns and two oboes (replaced by two flutes in the Adagio). It was an aerated, sprightly performance, with a satisfying propulsion, especially in the outer movements with Nott delicately teasing out the numerous off-beat accents. Pahud moved freely about the stage, shifting his weight from one leg to the other, occasionally bending both knees to coax out a tone. His own stylish free-flowing cadenzas, with their exquisite trills and embellishments, were enchanting, the one in the slow movement particularly haunting and beautiful. For an encore, Pahud gave us Debussy’s Syrinx. His phenomenal control of colour and tone in diminuendos was otherworldly and barely believable.

For Mahler’s Fifth Symphony Nott conducted without a score and with immense physicality, details actively pinpointed or, more often, allowed to emerge. Nott presented the Symphony as a contradictory psychodrama, with conflicting emotions simultaneously vying for attention. The opening slow march was as enigmatic as it was funereal. In the second movement there was a sense of things being slightly underpowered, for although we had attack, we missed the accented violence that Mahler calls for (mit größter Vehemenz). In the searching third movement, Nott gently pulled apart the lines, in leisurely and almost quizzical contemplation; the magnificent soaring horn obbligatos, played ephemerally by Julia Heirich, took us into a whole new dimension, and for a moment time stopped. The Adagietto was as fast, or as slow, as it needed to be – in other words about somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. The music’s tenderness emanated from the strings’ pitch-perfect control, and Nott’s micro-adjustments to balance; certainly it was all the more affecting for not being heart-on-sleeve. The Symphony concluded with confidence, and ultimately with affirmation, with keenly articulated rhythms, and cross-rhythms, bringing great excitement, not least when the brass (magnificent throughout) finally let rip.

As the applause begun, orchestra members spontaneously hugged each other. It was an immensely moving, and human, occasion.


Colin’s Column recommends this,, Nott/SRO Debussy & Schoenberg.


Sokolov in Spain.