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Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne - Usher Hall Series


By Iain Gilmour - Posted on 10 September 2007

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Venue: 
The Usher Hall
Production: 
Music Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel; Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Photoptosis; Schumann: Symphony No.3 in E flat (Rhenish); Strauss: three songs Das Rosenband, Morgen and Cäcilie
Performers: 
Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne, Conductor Markus Stenz (Conductor)

There was a disappointing attendance at this unusual concert by the Gürzenich
Orchestra. Advance ticket sales were so poor that the Upper Circle was closed
and the ticket-holders there reseated in the Stalls.

The inclusion of a Zimmerman piece -- a German composer virtually unknown to UK audiences -- may have deterred some, while others may have decided they had heard enough Richard Strauss from
the orchestra in its main role in Capriccio at the Festival Theatre.

What was offered in the Usher Hall was a varied programme that allowed the Gürzenich
opportunities to use strengths not possible from the opera pit.

A cracking start came with Till Eulenspiegel, where brass and drums produced
a hall-filling volume that made the audience sit up.

It was followed by Zimmerman's Photoptosis but not straight away.

First we had conductor Markus Stenz give a detailed explanation of an avant
garde work by a man he called the most important composer of the last century.
A cogent account of its origins -- shimmering impressions of light falling on
a blue-painted wall -- vivid phraseology ( "quarter notes, that's the specks
of dirt between the black and white keys") and explicit warning of the
vast wall of sound to come ("This is something you can only hear here.
There's no hi-fi that could cope with it") did much to prepare us to listen
intelligently.

He was right about the volume. The magnitude was stunning and almost equalled
by the applause that followed.

The guide dog stretched out in the aisle immediately in front of me had been
immobile and impassive during the Strauss. But its tail wagged furiously and
at length after Zimmerman.

Schumann's Rhenish Symphony, which came after the interval, was something
of an anti-climax.

Markus Stenz
© Gürzenich Orchestra /
Hyou Vielz

It would be unfair to criticise the performance, which included some masterly
horn passages, but it lacked the fire of the two earlier works. It was more
than competent, just missing that little extra edge to lift it well clear of
the ordinary
.
There was similar disappointment with the closing item, three Strauss songs
sung by the Austrian
soprano Gabriele Fontana. It was unrealistic to expect a repeat of her ravishing
final aria in Capriccio but expectations were high.

Perhaps she is more at home on the operatic stage than the concert platform
as she seemed to rely on having a score in front of her. It may have been lack
of familiarity, but an excellent tone and warmth of voice did not quite convey
the enchantment of Das Rosenband or the outright eroticism of Cäcilie.

Concert Date: 31 August 2007


© Iain Gilmour 2 September 2007. First published on EdinburghGuide.com