“…too emotional, but I love it!”

Rheingoldhalle Mainz
Sunday 23 September 2012
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie; Philippe Graffin (violin)
Williams, Elgar,
Brahms

Once again I found myself in the rather uncharming and sober surroundings of Rheingoldhalle for a concert within the scope of the Mainzer Meisterkonzerte that was, however, nothing of the sort: the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, founded in 2007, played the beautiful music of three absolute geniuses. Two of them being fine Englishmen, the third one a beardy German – but all of them sharing a passion for affectionate tunes – they left their very own imprints on romanticism.

(c) Mosel Musikfestival

Starting off with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s overture to The Wasps (1909) – the accompanying score to the eponymous play by Aristophanes – the orchestra und Gérard Kosten showed a distinct sense for timing and sharpness of sound. The crescendi of the wasps’s constant humming were extraordinarily well pronounced, the precise entries of every instrumental group made a huge impression on me and the whole overture had something very debussyesque sound-wise. The soft, sweet sounds of the harp and chimes also reminded me of the composer’s (half-)namesake John Williams, to whose film scores this work bore an astonishing resemblance.

All in all the first half of the evening had a real British touch, continuing with Edward Elgar’s much loved but little played Violion Concerto in b minor op. 61. He composed the work in 1910 and was in awe about it: “It’s good! awfully emotional!too emotional, but I love it!”. While the concerto itself was superb and superbly played by the orchestra, the French soloist Philippe Graffin had some trouble fitting in. His commitment and passion for the music was conspicuous, but his intonation rather flat at times and during the quick runs also quite blurred. I have no idea if it was only me who noticed the very strange sound of his g string, but every time he stroked it the note came out somewhat rattling.

(c) Marco Borggreve

In the higher parts, his play was undoubtedly stunning but in comparison with the orchestra he almost faded from the spotlight. Elgar’s three lovely movements were of course wonderful as always, being conducted to the point by the South African Kosten. The last movement Allegro molto left the soloist with a both physical and technical challenge, which he mastered really well to some extent. Apart from the huddled runs in between, his performance was sympathetic in a way and earned him lots of applause. The encore was a charming little trio of the orchestra’s leader, Graffin himself and Martin Dobner (double bass) playing a humorous waltz by Brahms.

The second half consisted of Brahms’s 2nd Symphony (1877), which showed much more ‘traditional’ romantic elements by being much less risky: after all, the work was published almost 30 years earlier than Williams’s and Elgar’s compositions. The idyllic yet dynamic sounds of the first movement were a contrast to the second movement’s rather sluggish character, while the third movement stood out on its own. It reminded me very much of Ottorino Respighi’s Italiana (Antiche Danze ed Arie, 3rd Suite, I. movement), having a continuous pizzicato throughout the first few minutes. The last, quite fulminant movement proved that this orchestra has – no matter which dynamical instructions – the necessary subtlety and expression for this kind of music. I was – as so often with the Mainzer Meisterkonzerte – very impressed and please with this first concert. And also I noticed another thing: I never tire of listening to music live. It makes such a difference to me! In a world where digital reproductions are an everyday implement I am glad there is the option to have the real experience.

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