Norddeutscher Rundfunk SO

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris , Monday November 14 2005

Dohnanyi anyone?

Does anyone here have a firm opinion on the conducting of Christoph von Dohnanyi? I can’t pin him down. His conducting sounds somehow “plain,” which may not necessarily be a bad thing; what I mean is it’s hard to hit on or grasp anything you can describe or comment on. It’s like a “reading” rather than an “interpretation.”

Is he letting the music speak for itself? Last night I heard him conducting Bartok’s Divertimento for strings and Bruckner’s 7th. He didn’t choose to bring out the potential warmth or “local colour” in the Bartok, which sounded quite like plain old English folk songs; nor did he choose to bring out any potential religious intensity or Viennese morbidezza in the Bruckner. Moderate tempi throughout: no reckless presto in the Bartok, no foot-dragging in the adagio of the 7th.
Basically, it sounded like Bartok and Bruckner performed by a highly professional but no-nonsense north German radio orchestra. As it was the Norddeutscher Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester, perhaps that’s to be expected…?

They, by the way, were very good. In fact, the louder they played, the better they got. Pianissimo was not their forte, so to speak – never quite as quiet as a whisper; and it was in the quieter moments that their little failings showed: occasional difficulty in getting all the brass to “speak” at the start of a pianissimo chord, for example; isolated pizzicato notes not necessarily together; a couple of cracked trumpet attacks.

The other point separating the Audis from the Bentleys was that, at fff, the strings, though capable of that marvellous steely German sound, didn’t quite have the amazing Berlin or Vienna volume needed still to be heard under the gleaming brass (the trumpets were especially bright and the chorales moved as a single, impressive block). Unusually, the ‘cello section (more usually the unruliest of the string sections) was particularly impressive – useful in the 7th, perhaps on account of a charismatic leader.

They got lots of applause, the orchestra and Dohnanyi; but I can’t say I felt I’d learnt anything new… Anyone else have views on this chap?

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