Theatro Municipal, Rio de Janeiro
Thursday, May 9th, 2019
The Munich Chamber Orchestra
Daniel Giglberger, concertmaster
Elgar – Serenade for Strings in E minor, op.20
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy – Symphony for Strings no. 8 in D major
Antonín Dvorák – Serenade for Strings in E major, op.22
It was a somewhat rainy evening, as they come in Rio at this time of the year,when the days are beautifully sunny but the clouds tend to gather at twilight, making for dark gray skies and a few drops of rain, or, quite often, a tremendous downpour. The perfect setting for a romantic repertoire, if you think of the tempestuous characters and landscapes of authors such as Victor Hugo, Stendhal, Chateaubriand or Balzac.
So the music was by Mendelssohn, Dvorák and Elgar, in chronological order, but not that chosen by the musicians, who opted to surround Mendelssohn’s symphony with Elgar’s and Dvorák’s serenades. The three pieces are not similar, on the contrary,but equally beautiful.
Mendelssohn wrote this symphony in 1822, at the ripe age of 13. It is as if he knew he would not have much time. The symphony is still very close to classicism but the romantic mood is unmistakably there. The second movement is almost somber, in the vein of the second movement of Beethoven’s “Ghost” trio and that of Schubert’s second piano trio, of Barry Lindon fame. The use of violas, cello and bass, without violins (as Bach’s 6thBrandenburg concerto!) adds to the movement’s dark color.
Elgar’s serenade, composed in 1892, which preceded it on the program, is one of his most famous and, not surprisingly, beloved works. It is unabashedly romantic and, to me, has a scent of Mahler, especially in the second and third movements.
Dvorák’s serenade, which followed the Mendelssohn, was composed in 1875 and is also one of his most popular works, in which one can hear many uses of national themes, and one cannot help thinking of Tchaikovsky’s serenade and of the Onegin waltzes (listen to the tempo di valse) .
All this to say that the evening was definitely romantic, whereas one is more used to hearing Baroque and Classical repertoire from chamber orchestras. Nevertheless, this repertoire fit the Munich Chamber Orchestra to a T. At the risk of sounding trite and overdoing the reference to textiles, I must say that the strings were absolutely silky, and delivered a beautiful rounded, velvety sound. What produces this the quality of the players, obviously, but also their total accord and compatibility. As a violist friend of mine used to say, four great soloists don’t necessarily make a string quartet. This can definitely be extended to the chamber orchestra, where it is possibly even harder to achieve perfect coherence because the greater number of players makes it more elusive. Bowings, dynamics and vibrato must be brought to perfect union, and in that sense the Munich Chamber Orchestra was simply breathtaking (another trite expression, but what can one say?). The concert master Daniel Giglberger is a superb violinist and a precise maestro, an undeniable factor in bringing the group so meticulously together, without detriment to the musical quality. The principal cellist was also a magnificent player and leader. But what called my attention most was the strong presence of the violas, not a voice somewhere in between that of the violins and the cellos, but a gorgeous baritone not often or enough heard. I think I will never tell a viola joke again.
And I have added the Munich Chamber Orchestra to my short list of favorites, joining the Freiburger Barockorchester and La Petite Bande.