Dresden Staatskapelle/Haitink, Barbican, London

Barbican, London

In a country where we have several fine orchestras that sound more or less the same, it's a treat to hear an ensemble that remains as much itself as the Dresden Staatskapelle, visiting to continue the 75th-birthday celebrations for chief conductor Bernard Haitink.

That distinctive sound - rich, warm and muscular yet transparent at the same time - was full enough to draw out the nascent romanticism of Weber's overture to Der Freischütz, the mellifluous horn quartet making the pre-echoes of Wagner sound more obvious than ever.

Hearing this next to Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Weber was interesting, if only because the two works sounded so very far apart. Heard through Hindemith's prism of orchestral virtuosity, pseudo-militaristic swagger and whizz-bang percussion, Weber's melodies became the backbone of a glittering if slightly flippant showpiece.

However, it was in Beethoven's Seventh Symphony that the other striking aspect of the Staatskapelle's sound - its taut, disciplined clarity - really came into its own. Though Haitink's shaping of the introduction slightly laboured its melodic flow, he never allowed the relentless rhythms of the first movement to slacken; and the third movement proved that a robust, modern sound is by no means incompatible with an irresistible sense of momentum. The same went for the finale: with the orchestra kept at a relentless fortissimo there was little room for shaping, yet the movement was exhilarating none the less.

In this symphony more than any other, Beethoven glories in almost subversive bass lines that are often as interesting as the melodies. So it was good to hear a double bass section that could erupt from underneath the orchestra when needed; to see the front two players grinning their way through a double head-bang routine in all the very best bits was bliss. But that was merely one example of the wholesale involvement emanating from every player on stage; when so many orchestral concerts can seem like just another day at the office for the musicians, this one was a breath of fresh air.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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