Admittedly, Kurt Sanderling's son Stefan had stepped in at short notice to replace an indisposed Jiri Belohlavek. But without the pizzazz of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra or the sheen of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and with no obvious speciality, the orchestra offers no particular audience draw, and at Monday's concert of Dvorak and Beethoven, they stayed away in droves. Wednesday's more unorthodox mix of Mahler, Lutoslawski, Poulenc, Copland and Prokofiev filled more seats, though there was clear evidence of corporate bussing.
On both nights, it was not the orchestra, but the soloist who raised the temperature. On Monday, Imogen Cooper gave a noble account of Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto: no wonder that so fine a Mozart player should bring effortless grace, immaculate staccato, perfect pacing and dignity of phrase, spinning out long musical sentences with complete mastery.
On Wednesday, the American clarinettist Richard Stoltzman brought similar magic. From the moment he ran out on stage, his presence, somehow reminiscent of a wind-up toy, was utterly mesmerising. In Lutoslawski's Five Dance Preludes for clarinet and orchestra, he captured its varied folk moods by appearing to tell some imaginary story, complete with endearing looks of surprise at his own story-telling. In Copland's unjustifiably neglected Concerto (written for Benny Goodman), he crept into the opening section as if gently improvising; his soft sound was extraordinarily intense, especially as he seemed scarcely to be drawing breath. This one-movement work links its two sections by an elaborate cadenza: Stoltzman's virtuosity was simply riveting. And he plays dangerously - a sense that seemed to be missing from much of the orchestra's own playing.
Perhaps the fault lay with Sanderling (who may not have had enough rehearsal time) for his approach to all the repertoire was curiously similar. He conducts without baton, gently swaying with the music, but rarely introducing much sense of urgency or contrast. In Dvorak's delightful E major Serenade, where was the youthful abandon? In Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, why was the slow movement so un-shaped? In the Beethoven, he managed the pick-ups between soloist and orchestra well and in Copland's tricky final section, his presence was clearly necessary. But in the "Adagietto" from Mahler's Fifth Symphony, greater intensity might have been achieved without conductor. As it was, the string sound was undernourished, a far cry from Death in Venice.
ANNETTE MORREAUReuse content