THE Dresden Philharmonic and their conductor Michael Sanderling gave a polished performance of an all-Russian programme at the Usher Hall. Their crisp take on the jaunty rhythms of Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise from his opera Eugene Onegin set the scene for the composer’s Violin Concerto. This is one of the best-known works in the repertoire but soloist Arabella Steinbacher gave it a fresh makeover with her enthralling and dazzling virtuosity. She impressed with her intense musicality and flawless technique, coxing a full-bodied tone from her Stradivarius.
The Dresden Philharmonic & Arabella Steinbacher, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****
Sanderling successfully steered the orchestra through the tricky tempi of the first movement, sensitive to Steinbacher’s every nuance. He also created space for the dynamic woodwind section to enhance her lyricism in the andante and encouraged the playful tossing back and forth of the tune between orchestra and soloist in the finale.
The woodwind, especially the oboe and bassoon, also shone in Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5, a work that was a matter of life and death for the composer. However, for the most part, this competent and articulate reading failed to reflect this emotional intensity in the music. The phrases were almost too beautifully played, lacking that edgy, slightly nervy restlessness with which the symphony is shot through. It demands a gutsy and committed approach which unsettles the listener - we should have heard frenzied strings, the siren wail of the piccolo, and we should have been pinned to the back of our seats by the menacing timpani.
The orchestra were back in their comfort zone, however, with their encore, Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.