Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Vladimir Jurowski, Leonidas Kavakos in ADDA Alicante

There is nothing standard about performance, nothing predictable about experience, unless, of course, it is drained of all communication by an imperative to supply a product. Then, perhaps only then, strictures of form take over and dominate. And a concert program featuring Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture, the Brahms Violin Concerto and then Schubert’s Ninth Symphony might just sound a little run-of-the-mill, highly susceptible to the kind of delivery that might pander first to audience expectations and only then to interpretation. Expectations were thus not high, though it was pleasant to be back in Alicante’s ADDA auditorium without designated vacant seats to enforce social distancing. At least we were an audience again.

Initial impressions were that this touring Orchestra, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, would be quite small, since the chairs arranged on the stage seemed to leave significant spaces. But, at least in the scale of orchestration, none of these works approaches the grandiose, despite the fact that Schubert clearly did apply the term to his work’s duration.

On reflection, how could any concert be considered humdrum when the conductor is Vladimir Jurowski and the soloist Leonidas Kavakos?

And what about, from first note to last, the resplendent bright sound of this orchestra’s strings? They have a texture that seems sharp, in its attack, not its tonality! There seems to be an edge, for want of a better word, that shapes the phrases of the music into something much more than reproduction, much more than reading off the page. The brilliance of the sound surprises, rendering even the completely familiar into new experience. And so Mozart’s overture was suitably dramatic, but also fresh and even surprising. After a month without orchestral sound, the opening chords worked magic.

Vladimir Jurowski is tall. Leonidas Kavakos is taller. During the long orchestral introduction to the Brahms concerto, he faced the orchestra. This, surely, was no more than an indication of how much this soloist regarded the orchestra as his partner rather than as his vehicle. And the Brahms concerto is an integrated work, a true collaboration between orchestra and soloist, never a competition. The quality of shared experience was communicated perfectly by the performers and so, even in this work that the audience had heard so many times before, they collectively breathed fresh air into the auditorium. And the audience breathed freely, despite the masks. The perfection achieved on stage translated into a forty-minute performance that was received by a packed audience in complete silence, with every note registered and every phrase understood. This was communication, not mere bravura. Leonidas Kavakos offered an encore of solo JS Bach and, after the Brahms, the understatement was almost more intense than what had preceded it.

In some hands Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, the so-called Great C Major, can go on a bit. This performance was advertised as lasting fifty minutes, so clearly not all the repeats were played. They very rarely are.

But it must be recorded that under Jurowski’s baton, this lengthy work came across as fresh, original and committed. There was not a single note in the hour when anyone in the audience felt that this was standard repertoire being delivered with standard interpretation. This felt particularly special.

The second movement, alongside the trio section from the scherzo, could be mistaken for Mahler, almost a century early. It is worth remembering, as the program notes pointed out, that Schubert never heard the work, that it was not premiered until over a decade after its composer’s death and that, at the time, musicians who saw the work considered it is difficult, unplayable and probably many other things that they dare not say because it did not conform with their expectations. Or perhaps, given a modern analogy, they considered the effort required as being above their pay grade. This performance by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Jurowski did reproduce a sense of freshness and originality, perhaps something like Schubert had envisaged, the sound world that mystified the composer’s contemporaries. This time the mystery was enlightening.


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