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A lucky catch

09/10/2010 -  
Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 95
Benjamin Britten: Serenade for tenor, horn and strings op. 31
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter” K. 551

James Gilchrist (Tenor), Thomas Müller (Horn)
Zürcher Kammerorchester, Sir Roger Norrington (conductor)

R. Norrington(© Manfred Esser)

Lucky Zurich and lucky Zurich Chamber Orchestra to have garnered the services of the renowned Sir Roger Norrington as Principal Conductor Designate as from next season 2011/2012. This will allow Muhai Tang, their current Chief Conductor, time to continue his links with the orchestra but devote more time to his other international commitments, which include Principal Conductor of the Shanghai Philharmonic, who give a concert in Zurich in November.

Tang has over the last few years nurtured the ensemble to a particularly high level; Norrington will now shape it to his particular aim in life, to make the music sound as it did when the composer wrote it. There was no sign of vibrato in this concert so the message is clear and already understood.

Both orchestra and audience had smiles on their faces throughout this thoroughly enjoyable concert. Norrington frequently turned to the audience during the music to make quite sure they were enjoying the lighter moments, of which there were many. Norrington has a typically British sense of humour and, in a recent interview with “Musik Theater”, a Swiss magazine dedicated to classical music, stated that music should be 60% fun and 40% love – and 0% work. He wants audiences to enjoy themselves, and the orchestra to enjoy playing and show their enjoyment to the audience.

The Haydn was full of wonder and delight, with sharply heightened accents throughout. After a charming amble through the Andante, we relished an excellent cello solo in the Menuetto, with many delicate touches from conductor and orchestra in which to revel. The Finale, as expected, was effervescent and Norrington finished with a characteristic flourish. The audience laughed on a number of (suitable) occasions, not a sound the audience at the Tonhalle has made for a long while.

Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, horn and strings is a serious, haunting work. No room for laughs here. James Gilchrist was a most sensitive singer, firm in tone, with perfect intonation, recalling Peter Pears if one shut one’s eyes. The pity was that despite every effort it was hard to hear the words, even for me as an Englishman, so what hope was there for the locals. The ZKO is generous by handing out free programmes (if you can find one, an usher had to locate one for me) but ought to spend more on them by giving some details of the works and the words to be heard. Thomas Müller excelled with his plaintiff horn solos, using a period valveless hunting horn for the Prologue and Epilogue (the latter, offstage), a Programme Note warning the audience by implication not to expert faultless playing of such a difficult instrument. This piece was probably new to most Zurich ears and one hopes that Norrington will introduce other lesser known British fare to local audiences in his forthcoming concerts. There is much to which to look forward.

John Rhodes



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