Thursday, December 3, 2020

WDR Funkhaus Wallrafplatz, Cologne, Germany

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

During the late-fifties/early-sixties I developed a passion for Weber, the Konzertstück and Concertos occupying me at the piano, the two Symphonies taking me to the RCM library. Then Turnabout in America brought out an LP by the Canadian bassoonist George Zukerman, with Jörg Faerber and the Württemburg Chamber Orchestra, including the C-minor Andante and Hungarian Rondo, Opus 35, a revision of a score written originally for viola and published in parts in Berlin in 1816. In 1966, the enthusiastic owner of a Ferrograph Series Six recorder (it weighed a ton), I taped it off a BBC Network Three mono broadcast – and played it incessantly, warming to its expression and gallantry. Years on, one of my undergraduates, a ‘Jane Austen’ girl who played the bassoon with charming fervour but liked to tease me for not always getting my facts correct when it came to her instrument, needed something for a recital. I persuaded her to look at the piece.

Since which it has remained on the shelf. Until this Cologne concert. An unusually planned evening emphasising youth and spotlighting principals of the WDR Symphony Orchestra under the gifted Spanish conductor Julio García Vico, winner of the 2019 German Conductors’ Award. Hosted by Uwe Schulz of WDR 5, a man who likes the sound and pacing of his pondered thespian delivery, with Malaika Mihambo, Germany’s current world long-jump champion, as guest, a woman who watches elegantly and appraises coolly, the programme included Concertos or concerted works by Mozart (Přemysl Vojta), Bottesini (Stanislau Anishchanka), and Tchaikovsky (Oren Shevlin).

All were rewarding and skilful, entertaining in their different ways. But it was the Weber that won the night, drawing the best out of everyone. Mathis Kaspar Stier, solo bassoonist of the WDR SO since 2016, is aristocratic in demeanour, posture and bearded presence. He brought just the right amount of elan and rhythmic spring to the music, with Vico, directing from memory, pointing the pulse and encouraging his players (divided, distanced violins, hard-stick timpani) to articulate accompaniments and colour/accent the ‘Hungarian’ beats. This was a refined period-weighted reading, with a soloist in undemonstrative command of the occasion, from rich legato cantation and tongued attacks to brillante triplets to that final searing scale up to high Sacre C. A performance to feed one’s fantasy.