Every so often, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra presents its own members as soloists. When they do so, they don’t sneak one of their own in for a warhorse, coupled perhaps with a mighty symphony (which invariably feels like admins having tried to do a concerto “on the cheap”), but with a dedicated evening advertised as such, played at a smaller venue, and—of course—conducted by their boss, Mariss Jansons.
Mozart, Horn Concertos 1-4, D.Brain / H.v.K., Philharmonia
Mozart, Concertone, Sinfonia Concertante et al., Julia Fischer et al. / Y.Kreizberg / NChO
Martinů, Oboe Concerto et al., V.Neumann, CzPO
Martinů, Works for Violin & Orchestra, v.1, Hogwood et al. / CzPO
The venue for the one-off concert on Saturday, January 17th, was the acoustically excellent Prinzregententheater, sold out to the last of its 1000 seats. Solo hornist Eric Terwilliger (Bloomington, IN), who had performed so admirably in the last BRSO concert of the year, started it off with Mozart’s Horn Concerto in E-flat K 447. After a few niggles, the lips warmed up, things ran very smoothly for him. (Incidentally, there’s no pose that’s not awkward holding a horn when one isn’t actually playing it.)
“Lovely” is the name of the game for K 190, Mozart’s Concertone for Two Violins and Orchestra in C. When it is played as well as it was by Antonio Spiller and Irina Simon-Renes, Mozart seems so incredibly easy; child’s play, indeed. And yet, any lesser performance can cruelly expose the difficulties that lie beneath the Mozartean surface. Both soloists blended in with the orchestra which is to say that they—thankfully—didn’t treat it as the virtuoso showpiece it decidedly isn’t. They did their job so well, and with such grace, that the occasional oboe solo (Ramon Ortega Quero) just about turned the work into an accidental triple concerto.
There was no sense of duty here—only the unalloyed enjoyment of music-making. Being part of a professional orchestra, playing day in and out, that joy isn’t easy to maintain, but it’s the only good reason to perform music in the first place. (After all, who wants to seen and hear players fiddle through under-rehearsed, menial Mozart?) When delight is present (and combined with the quality of these BRSO’s players), performances become radiant, playful interpretations, and the result unabashedly gorgeous.
A virtuoso concerto for double bass is a bit like an evening of soprano arias for elephant. Surprisingly agile despite its size, finely spun and funny-looking, detailed, but also cute and eliciting a warm, slightly patronizing feeling: “Oooh, look—how adorable!” Well, adorable might be the wrong word, but it wasn’t far off as regarded Philipp Stubenrauch’s performance of the lighthearted Johann Baptist Vanhal Concerto in D. Three (!) cadenzas (if you get the chance to shine only every few years, you might as well take advantage of it), the first by H.K.Gruber, the others by the soloist himself, gave enough opportunity to Stubenrauch to strut his very impressive stuff, as did his encore of Knut Guettler’s “Variations on Greensleeves” Thunderous applause made up for the lack of opportunity to again shine thus in the next few years.
Martinů was good to hear as a conclusion to this evening of classical confections. Hiding in Martinů’s vast output are many gems, and the more Martinů I hear, the more I tend to consider (them) gems. The Oboe Concerto for Small Orchestra and piano must be counted among them. On that note, Hyperion’s series unearthing the orchestral works with violin ought to be singled out for praise.
Its wistful, overripe romanticism, its soft modern grain, and its classical proportions evoked a similar response in me as a very good performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto might. With Stefan Schilli as its astutely articulate, round toned ambassador and its concise form packed with great music and lucidly expressed, fresh ideas, the Oboe Concerto won the most heartfelt approval of an already enthused audience. That British emotional reference might have been aided by Schilli’s encore: the first of Britten’s Metamorphoses after Ovid.