Wednesday 25 January 2017

Poetic exploration: Dresden Festival Orchestra in Schumann

Jan Vogler, Dresden Festival Orchestra, Ivor Bolton - Schumann Cello Concerto & Symphony No.2
Schumann Cello Concerto, Symphony No. 2; Jan Vogler, Dresden Festival Orchestra/ Dresdner Festspielorchester, Ivor Bolton; Sony Classical
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 20 2017
Star rating: 4.0

The first disc from the Dresden festival orchestra, includes Schumann's concerto with the festival's artistic director

This disc on Sony Classical is something of an exploration, the first disc from the orchestra of the Dresden Music Festival, the Dresden Festival Orchestra (playing on period instruments) under its conductor Ivor Bolton, and it also represents cellist Jan Vogler's first outing using gut strings on his Stradivarius cello (Jan Vogler is artistic director of the festival). The repertoire is a canny choice, Schumann's Cello Concerto and Symphony No. 2. One was written whilst Schumann was living in Dresden, the other shortly after he left.

Schumann's orchestral music responds well to historically informed performance practice, the perceived problems with the orchestral writing largely disappear and the transparency of texture brings light and clarity to the music. Whilst the orchestra's strings make a good firm sound, the balance has plenty of room for the wind.

The concerto opens in intimate and confiding manner, and throughout it is restraint and poetry which are paramount.
Jan Vogler plays with an expressive fluidity and soft-grained sound, rather than edgy plangency. This is an intelligent and civilised reading. The mood of thoughtful poetry continues into the second movement which builds to a nice intensity with Jan Vogler's cello often responsing almost like a vocal line, especially in the linking passage to the third movement. This is not taken too fast (Ivor Bolton's speeds throughout are on the steady side). Rather elegiac, the movement comes over as an engaging dialogue between cello and orchestra, underpinned by a nice vividness of rhythm.

A relaxed performance, engaging and civilised, this is grown up music and you are aware that you are listening to a group of mature musicians who happen to play in an historically informed manner, rather than having a particular axe to grind. Like the recent performance from Jean-Guihen Queyras, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and Pablo Heras Casado (see my review), this account of the cello concerto takes it on Schumann's own terms, he referred to it as as a concert piece for cello with orchestral accompaniment and clearly thought of it as something poetic, rather than a big romantic gesture.

Schumann's Symphony No. 2 was written whilst he was living in Dresden. It was not a success, lasting more than an hour it was too long for audiences and Schumann had to make extensive revisions and cuts.

The opening chorale of the first movement starts with a feeling of steady unfolding, but Bolton soon responds to the music and things become very impulsive with some lovely wind playing. Throughout there is a real vibrancy about the performance with vivid accents and articulation. The scherzo has a real urgency to the scurrying figures and a vibrancy of detail, with a contrasting lightness of texture in the trios. Bolton and the players really give us lift off with the final pages. The Adagio opens with a lovely oboe solo, and all the wind passages weave beautifully in and out of the orchestra texture with lovely clarity to the detail. The final movement is vigorous with impulsive rhythms. Bolton brings out the variety of textures in Schumann's orchestral writing.

The Dresden Festival Orchestra was founded by the Dresden Music Festival in 2012, and each year the orchestra is formed from outstanding international specialists in the historically informed performance practice from European early music ensembles. The 2017 Dresden Music Festival runs from 18 May to 18 June 2017, and includes a chance to hear Ivor Bolton conducting the Dresden Festival Orchestra in Beethoven's Leonore, the 1805 version of his opera Fidelio.

Both works display a civilised maturity, a sense of energy combined with a feeling of real enjoyement in the playing.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129
Robert Schumann - Symphony No. 2 n C major Op. 61
Jan Vogler (cello)
Dresden Festival Orchestra
Ivor Bolton (conductor)
Recorded 27-31 May 2016, Lukaskirche, Dresden
SONY 1CD [58.44]
Available from

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