When Marin Alsop and Paul Lewis were the attractions on the program of the Oslo Philharmonic (with Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto to add to the star power), the ungainly Oslo Concert Hall was sold out to the last, expanded seat. A week later Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs and Camilla Nylund headed the bill, with music director Jukka-Pekka Saraste conducting, and the attendance was scarcely half as large. They missed out, for starters, on Henri Dutilleux’ atmpospheric, prettily meandering Mystére de l’instant: A 15 minute work for strings, dulcimer, and percussion that slips and slides toward its ambivalent conclusion with several neat, small solos for the first desks and timpanist along the way. Easy on the ears, nothing conservative patrons need to run away from, but nothing—admittedly—that will have tickets flying off the shelf.
Dutilleux, Mystére de l’instant ...,
H.Graf / Bordeaux Aquitaine NO
R.Wagner, R.Strauss, "Transformation",
C.Nylund / H.Lintu / Tampere PO
Mozart, "Symphonies 39 & 40,
R.Jacobs / Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
This combination made, for all the preceding beauty, looking forward to the concluding Mozart Symphony—No.39—difficult. It’s very easy to underestimate how challenging it is to play Mozart, even late, heavier Mozart, after a bill of 20th century modernish/romantic fare. It’s difficult enough for most modern philharmonic orchestras to play Mozart well when their musical blood has been coagulated by too much ‘oomph-music’, and Viennese classics coming out like bad-habit Schumann.
Happily it wasn’t Mozart-as-Schumann in this case. And while it also wasn’t light and tip-toed Mozart à la Freiburg Baroque Orchestra or even Concertebouw / Josef Krips, it was a thoroughly engaging, very crisply driven affair, combining sprightliness and body and energetic all the way to the finale. Sarastre steered his musicians with unfussy aplomb that made, individual kinks apart, for the best playing of the night and possibly for the best playing I have heard of the Oslo Philharmonic yet.