The Staatsorchester Braunschweig offered a finely played program that intrigued in its bent towards the unfamiliar. At the center was Strauss’ Oboe Concerto, serving as the only familiar notes of the program; on either side was a rarely-performed work from a rarely-performed composer, namely Zemlinsky and Spohr. Strauss and Spohr both served as conductors of this orchestra, amongst the many luminaries that have graced the podium in a history that dates back to 1587. At the helm for this program was the Staatsorchester’s general music director, Serbian conductor Srba Dinić.

Srba Dinić conducting the Staatsorchester Brainschweig
© Bettina Stoess (2019)

In hopes of his text becoming the basis for a ballet score, Hugo von Hofmannsthal presented his Der Triumph der Zeit to both Strauss and Mahler. Though ultimately neither were interested, a willing party was to be found in Alexander Zemlinsky. A suite of highlights was later produced, bearing the moniker Drei Ballettstücke. Gently cascading winds over amber brass marked the opening Reigen, music deeply lyrical as it swelled and surged. Despite the drama, the material generally showed a lighter side of Zemlinsky, never without a certain Viennese charm. A ponderous introduction in Fauntanz (Faun Dance) gave way to stylishly dancing textures, and the ensemble purveyed a rich orchestral sound, boasting especially fine playing from the woodwinds. Almost Mendelssohnian in its sprightliness, a fleeting Presto brought the suite to a close.

The Strauss Oboe Concerto brought twenty-something Swiss oboist Salomo Schweizer front and center. With rarely a moment to take a breath, Schweizer produced an arching, deftly shaped melodic line, limber and flexible, and Dinić guided the orchestra in a supportive accompaniment. The Andante touchingly captured the wistful lyricism of this autumnal work, written in Strauss’ final years. A virtuosic cadenza built a bridge to the more spirited closing matter, marked by charming interplay between soloist and orchestra. Though by this point the composer eschewed the extravagance of his youthful works, his quintessentially lush harmonies abounded as splashes of orchestral color.

Louis Spohr (born Ludwig) was a native son of Braunschweig. One of the most performed composers of the 19th century, he has a vast catalogue to his name, including ten symphonies. His body of work bridges the gap between the Classical and Romantic periods, and thus occupies a similar place in music history as perhaps Schubert or Weber. The Symphony no. 2 in D minor is not without echoes of its classical predecessors, though firmly oriented towards the future. Schubert’s “Tragic” Symphony comes to mind given the minor tonality, but this a work that undoubtedly bears Spohr’s individual stamp.

In spite of the key signature, the opening Allegro was more mellow than stormy, spaciously unfurling. Flowing melodic lines in the strings were generously articulated, and fine playing from the principal oboe further bears mention. The graceful Larghetto occasionally grew in urgency, but ultimately didn’t stray far from its gentle beginnings. A Scherzo made for an energetic affair, its nervous energy countered in due course by docile trios – superficially, not unlike the analogous movement in a Beethoven symphony, but Spohr’s approach was fascinatingly contrasted. The finale was joyous and untroubled, and after advocacy like this, I certainly feel encouraged to give some of Spohr’s other symphonies a listen.

This performance was reviewed from the Staatstheater Braunschweig video stream