Sunday, August 06, 2017

A rare and rewarding visit from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, plus all the best of the BBC Proms 2017 so far
John Allisson

Prom 26: Mozart and Brahms ★★★★☆

For the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen’s first return to the Proms in seven years, expectations were high. The orchestra’s classy reputation precedes it everywhere, yet even audience members unfamiliar with the ensemble would have found several clues in its name. A tightly knit chamber orchestra in the best German tradition, its base in Bremen, in the northwest of the country, helps to make it open to wider influences from across northern Europe.

Indeed, its artistic director for the past 13 years has been the Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi, so it was hardly surprising to find this concert opening with the British premiere of a work by his compatriot Erkki-Sven Tüür. Originally written for the Australian Chamber Orchestra and premiered in Canberra in 2011, Flamma alludes in more than just its title to the destructive and sometimes renewing force of bushfires – a malevolent energy is felt in the music from the very first bars.

Scored for a small group of strings only, Flamma is full of flickering, rasping textures. For all their intricate detail, though, they form part of a bigger, shifting soundscape, which Järvi controlled with unruffled authority. Based on the old concerto grosso model, a small group of soloists – tracing rapt melismatic lines — enter into dialogue with the bigger body of strings while flame-like figures are never far from leaping up again. In Kensington of all places in summer 2017, Flamma’s elegiac moments perhaps took on a wider meaning.

One of Mozart’s greatest early masterpieces, the Sinfonia concertante for violin, viola and orchestra, positively glowed in the hands of these players. They were joined by a pair of highly responsive soloists, Vilde Frang and Lawrence Power, who respectively relished the music’s sweet-toned delicacy and warmth. The sublime slow movement registered fully here, proving that intimate music-making is possible in the Albert Hall. Järvi enforced crisp articulation but never at the expense of eloquence.

Another repertoire staple, Brahms’s Second Symphony, received a no less illuminating performance, one that gained in part from the chamber orchestra dimensions – closer to the size of many German orchestras in Brahms’s day. But it was the orchestra’s responsiveness to Järvi, shown also in two Brahms Hungarian Dance encores, that allowed it to fully embrace this music’s myriad changes of mood. Exciting propulsion gave way to pastoral beauty and finally to sunny high spirits in the finale: rare enough in Brahms and even rarer in too many performances of his music.

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