An interesting and logical programme marked the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra’s debut Proms appearance yet unfortunately found fewer advocates at the ticket office, as they played to a half empty Royal Albert Hall.
A shame, for this walk through four generations of German Romanticism was often illuminated by their new conductor Paavo Järvi‘s attention to detail and evident enjoyment of the music.
A pleasingly earthy sound came from the woodwind section too, impressively drilled in the march music of Mahler in particular, then excelling themselves in the extraordinary final movement of Schoenberg’s ambitious recasting of Brahms.
This was the evening’s tour de force, and provided a welcome note of open humour in contrast to Mahler’s barbed wit as conveyed by Matthias Goerne in the first half. That in itself was a darker shade alongside a high spirited finish to Weber’s Oberon overture, where Järvi handled the variations of tempo effortlessly, his first horn Samuel Seidenberg capturing the magical horn motif with an airy turn of phrase.
Youth’s Magic Horn is the loose translation of Mahler’s settings of folk poems, performed in exemplary fashion by surprise debutant Goerne, whose serious approach may have lacked a little wide eyed youthfulness but compensated amply in a surprisingly powerful delivery.
Performing eight of the fourteen songs that make up the collection, the baritone was appropriately stern in the bitter march of Revelge, where Järvi’s accompanying woodwind shrieked in response. In the softer music Goerne was superbly light, with a radiant Urlicht (as also heard in the Resurrection symphony) helped by barely audible strings.
Schoenberg had Mahler as a mentor but could claim Brahms as perhaps his single biggest compositional influence, and his arrangement of the first piano quartet was for him to hear properly Brahms’s intricate part writing, previously suffering at the hands of mob handed pianists swamping the texture.
It is the most adventurous of the arrangements for orchestra of Schoenberg and his contemporaries Berg and Webern, and Järvi successfully communicated its increasingly daring orchestrations with great élan. Percussion whirred in the march episode of the Andante, exuberant where the opening Allegro had been sober, while the gypsy rondo finale dashed away, the sparkling effects more and more outrageous but somehow managing to continue to complement the music, even in the uproarious cadenza.
The encore, a suitably lilting Sixth Hungarian Dance from Brahms, put the seal on an evening that proved what we always knew – that Germans have a healthy sense of humour.