Concert Review: Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra

Words: Neil Fulwood
Saturday 20 April 2024
reading time: min, words

Neil Fulwood checks out the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Concert Hall...

Maria Ioudenitch Web Hero Image 1600X600

With the Dresden Philharmonic in a year-long hinterland between Marek Janowski stepping down as chief conductor and Sir Donald Runnicles assuming the role in 2025, and Stanislav Kochanovsky on a guest conducting carousel until he takes the reins of the NDR Radio Philharmonic, I wondered if this concert would be marked by a sense of displacement.

I needn’t have worried. Orchestra and conductor worked well together, the Dresden Philharmonic responding to Kochanovsky’s elegant podium presence. The performance began with the Prelude to Mussorgsky’s opera Khovanshchina. The composer completed libretto and composition for piano score but died before he could orchestrate it. Rimsky-Korsakov finished the job. Subsequently, the opera was re-orchestrated by Shostakovich.

Appropriately, given that his Violin Concerto No 1 was up next, the Shostakovich orchestration was used. Short, melodic, and only slightly tinged with foreshadowing (the opera becomes progressively darker), the Prelude was an ideal opener. Conducting without baton, Kochanovsky fluidly shaped the music with a grace and precision reminiscent of Haitink.


...A tour de force that had the audience whooping...

Joined onstage by the equally elegant Maria Ioudenitch, Kochanovsky adapted his conducting style (using baton this time), establishing a minimalist engagement with orchestra the better to gift his soloist the limelight. Projecting a calm, ethereal stage presence for the opening movement, Ioudenitch then threw herself into the scherzo with a commendable degree of attack. What followed was edge-of-the-seat music-making, orchestra and violinist almost daring each other on. It would have been a high point in any concert, but Ioudenitch’s real showstopper was the extended cadenza which opens the burlesque finale. A tour de force that had the audience whooping and hollering for an encore.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6, the Pathétique, occupied the second half. A staple of the repertoire that’s not lacking in big tunes, it’s a safe bet for a crowd-pleasing finale. Nonetheless, at least in the first movement, it seemed overshadowed by the sheer visceral intensity of the Shostakovich. Come the allegro molto vivace, however, Kochanovsky had whipped the orchestra into such propulsive ecstasy that many of the audience (this reviewer included) broke the no-applause-between-movements rule. The finale was sheer joy, the audience so spellbound by the held-breath diminuendo of the closing notes that it took a while for the applause to kick in, and even then it was tentative to begin with; a respectful holding back. Then it grew, swelled, became rapturous.

I have no doubt the Dresden Philharmonic will enjoy a productive and creative partnership with Runnicles, but their showing in this concert left me wishing that it was Kochanovsky taking the helm with them. 

The Dresden Philharmonic played at the Royal Concert Hall on April 19th 2024.

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