Peerless performance in Singapore debut

REVIEW / CONCERT

DRESDEN PHILHARMONIC

Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Friday

The Dresden Philharmonic made their Singapore debut in an all-German programme that included a peerless performance of Brahms' Symphony No. 2.

Founded in 1870, the orchestra has a rich history.

Michael Sanderling has been principal conductor since 2011 and his time with the orchestra has witnessed successful international tours, the construction of a new concert hall and the extension of his tenure to at least 2019.

The concert opened with the Overture to Euryanthe by Carl Maria von Weber, one of the composer's best known overtures.

Sanderling's reading of the work was excellent, treating the eight- minute early romantic German overture with the care and detail with which he took the great symphony in the second half.

The much loved "European" orchestral sound was evident from the opening notes.

The Dresden Philharmonic's strings produce a polished and precise tone, and have a great ability to shape the beginning and endings of phrases.

The woodwinds and double basses were not so immediately at home with the acoustics of the Esplanade Concert Hall, but they adjusted well and soon showed their true strengths.

Up-and-coming French pianist David Fray, voted Newcomer of the Year in 2008 BBC Music Magazine, performed Schumann's Piano Concerto.

In addition to having a strong reputation for his sensitive and highly individual musicianship, he is also well known for eccentricities in his playing style - an arched playing posture, broad arm gestures and humming along with his playing - which invite comparisons with the late Glenn Gould.

The concerto performance was a touch subdued in the opening movement, with soloist and orchestra taking some time to warm to each other.

Things settled well as the movement progressed. Fray played with charm and elegance, while retaining the drama and tension that interjects the work.

The slow second movement was most beautiful - sensitive, lyrical and captivating - and was followed by a spirited, ebullient final movement.

The highlight of this evening was an exceptional interpretation and performance of Brahms' second symphony.

Sanderling weaved the symphony's many lyrical passages into a broader tapestry that was just what was called for in this most pastoral of Brahms' four symphonies, while the orchestra's ability to shade the sound from delicate pianissimos through effortless fortissimos was exemplary.

What a pity the flow of the symphony was marred by insistent applause between movements. Even the conductor's outstretched arms signalling that he was waiting to start the final movement of the symphony was to no avail.

Sanderling directed a carefully conceived and tastefully delivered symphony. It was enchanting and robust in equal parts and, under his direction, the orchestra of more than 90 musicians was able to start and stop on a dime, whispering one moment and roaring the next.

The Dresden Philharmonic's Singapore debut was well programmed and executed with precision and commitment, treating the audience to a stirring concert that follows in the footsteps of the great German orchestral tradition.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2016, with the headline 'Peerless performance in Singapore debut'. Print Edition | Subscribe