Austrian Connections – Leicester Concert-goer Review

Austrian Connections

Bardi Symphony Orchestra

Conductor Claus Efland

Bardi Wind Soloists

Mozart – Sinfonia Concertante for winds

Bruckner – Symphony No.4 in Eb “Romantic”

De Montfort Hall, Leicester

Sunday 6th October 3.30pm

One of the incidental pleasures of attending Bardi concerts is that this listener at

least becomes re- acquainted with music that he cherished both live and on

record in his youth, but which seems to have almost disappeared from concert

programmes more recently. Not long ago there was Beethoven’s Triple Concerto.

Then one of my first LPS in the early 1950’s was of Karajan and the Philharmonia

performing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik coupled with Sinfonia Concertante for Winds

K297b, the latter performed by the wind stars of the orchestra of that time,

Walton, Sutcliffe, James and last and certainly not least Dennis Brain. I was told by

some scholars that the work was of doubtful origin but I didn’t believe it then and

I don’t believe it now. Music of such wit, elegance, and effortless beauty has

always seemed to me quite clearly to have the imprint of the master.

This performance brought that all back to me. It is true that there was a rather

reticent start. The orchestra was a mite stiff in its phrasing and the soloists

struggled to emerge. It all sounded more like a symphony than a concerto and

one wondered whether the body of strings was slightly too large. Perhaps it is the

scoring or perhaps it was that all concerned took time to ease themselves into the

work but by the wonderful slow movement things took off. The quartet emerged

as players of personality and this was Mozart at his divine best as was the case in

the virtuosity demanded of the players in the variations of the third movement.

These demands were fully met so that my memories of the 1950’s became even

more hazy than they were in the first instance and it was an outright pleasure to

hear how Linda Backhouse, Oboe, Andrew Piper, Clarinet ,Mark Penny, Horn and

Ceri Beaumont, Bassoon relished the virtuosic opportunities given them.

And then from gambolling in the sunny landscape of this work, the players were

faced with ascending the Everest that is Bruckner’s huge Symphony No.4

(Romantic). To be frank, one seriously worried for the safety of the climbers. The

idea that a largely amateur group of limited symphonic size could do justice to

this composer where sometimes even crack professional orchestras fail seemed

optimistic in the extreme.

Such feelings were not without foundation. Firstly, in certain aspects, size does

matter in Bruckner. All the stuff about ‘cathedrals of sound’ has some truth and

that is achieved by building upwards and ,however manfully the double basses

sawed away, four of them to my ear simply could not provide that foundation.

Also, and not surprisingly, the strings as a whole were communicating signs of

metal fatigue by the time they reached the final movement, which in any case, as

quite often is the case with this composer, is not a fully satisfying crowning of

what has gone before.

However, as so often is the case, what might be regarded as an impediment to

enjoyment was not so. The smaller size of the ensemble emphasised that

Bruckner at least knows that he is not writing for organ but for an orchestra with

its wider range of colours. The conductor brought out at times, particularly in the

cellos and the woodwind, the Schubertian elements in the symphony which so

often disappear in the welter of ear bursting sound. Mind you there was plenty of

that since the brass were in fine form starting from the first horn, who was only

just off soloist duty in the Mozart and was then faced with his own Everest at the

opening of the symphony, so important in the setting of the mood of the work. It

was a test in which he triumphed.

But then there were many felicities in this performance, not least the clear

intention of Claus Efland to keep things moving. One the best performances of

this symphony I have heard came in this year’s Proms from the Philharmonia

under its chief conductor Salonen (who incidentally comes to Leicester this

season) and it was so because some of speeds would have shocked the purists

who believe that Bruckner is one comatose meditation and the slower he is

played the deeper is the interpretation. Both these conductors showed just what

is missed in the music when played like that. The scoring is infinitely more various

and more lively than it often seems in the way it is performed and this was

communicated powerfully on this occasion.

So, in the end, though unsurprisingly not quite as successful as the orchestra’s

performances of Strauss and Nielsen, it seemed a journey well worth the taking,

particularly since there seems a severe shortage of Bruckner in the Midlands.