There wasn’t much to this Gürzenich Orchestra concert. Indeed, it was hardly a concert at all: more a Schumann symphony with a miniature addition. There were, apparently, plans for a concerto as well, but Covid travel restrictions forced the soloist’s cancellation. Them’s the times we live in, but it’s still a pity that this gives us fewer than 40 minutes of music.

François-Xavier Roth
© Holger Talinski

However, the performance of Schumann's Symphony no. 3 in E flat major “Rhenish” was very good. For one thing, it’s a work that belongs in the Rhineland, just like the city of Cologne itself; a point made forcibly by the orchestra’s programme planner in his lengthy spoken remarks. And let’s not forget that the famous, solemn fourth movement was inspired by a visit the composer made to Cologne’s great cathedral, so there’s a strong argument that this is music that belongs here.

François-Xavier Roth is well known for his work in historically informed performance practices, and he brought that out in this work, too, most obviously in that “Cologne Cathedral” slow movement. My knowledge of trombones is too sketchy to describe the ones used here as anything other than “period”, but their penetrating resonance made a massive difference to the sound. Elsewhere, the strings often played without vibrato, and the wind and brass solos seemed to hang in the aural texture with supreme clarity that you don’t often hear in other performances.

It’s Roth himself who deserves most of the credit, though. There was a supreme sense of lift in the opening, as there should be, and that set the scene for a performance of purpose and direction that carried all before it. There was a lovely feeling of swell, of ebb and flow, to the second movement, giving way to a more tentative third and a brooding fourth. However, the finale was a superb culmination, full of tremendous energy and vigour. There was spark and clarity to the first theme and the brass enjoyed being let loose on the busy second theme, blazing their way through to the symphony’s coda.

The brass took to the stage for the other work. York Höller is a Cologne composer, and his Entrée is part of the orchestra's “Fanfares for a New Beginning” series. It combines staccato mutterings with hints of Gabrieli who, we were reminded, also wrote in a time of plague. It's an interesting, but unremarkable work and, at less than three minutes in length, over in a flash. 

This performance was reviewed from the Gürzenich Orchester Köln video stream