Although a young orchestra by Viennese tradition, Martin Haselböck has made quite a lot out of the Orchester Wiener Akademie since founding it in 1985. Besides a regular series in the Musikverein and appearances in halls including the Schauspielhaus and Schloss Grafenegg, the ensemble has toured the world with John Malkovich as part of the experimental music theatre projects “The Infernal Comedy” and “The Giacomo Variations”, are working to perform and record the entire orchestral body of composition of Franz Liszt’s at his namesake festival in Raiding, and are currently working on a new initiative, “Re-Sound Beethoven”, where Beethoven’s Symphonies are performed on the instruments available at their conception, in the locations in which they were originally premiered. The Academieorchester prides itself on its use of original instrumentation in its performances, as well as its Austrian flair and “Musikantentum”.

Malin Hartelius © IMG Artists
Malin Hartelius
© IMG Artists

Defining Musikantentum is its own barrel of wax for outsiders. Musikant is a term derived from the idea of minstrelsy; a street or local musician who plays mostly dance and folk-music, for the sole purpose of entertainment; a colorful amateur player who plays for the unbridled joy of playing. Despite being technically a professional orchestra, the Orchester Wiener Akademie presents themselves with this concept very much at the fore. What they lack in polish and cleanliness they make up for in energy and verve, and tonight was no exception. Performing with baritone Florian Boesch, soprano Malin Hartelius, organist Christian Schmitt and the Vienna Singverein, the ensemble paired an obscure Symphony for Organ and Orchestra by French composer Charles-Marie Widor with a staple of literature, Brahms' German Requiem. Rather an odd pairing, but also completely in line with musical practice for much of the 19th century, where programming was often less an intellectual endeavour and more a combination of who was available, who was paying the bills and how seats could be filled.

Widor's Organ Symphony no. 5 in F minor is one of ten such works from the nearly completely unknown composer, and is a combination of movements from other, previously composed symphonies which is, unsurprisingly, exactly what it sounds like. The first and third movements are brassy, percussive and loud; full of florid organ work over repetitive, majestic full chords in the orchestra. These outside movements come from his Sixth Organ Symphony, while the middle movement is muted, in B flat major, and song-like, borrowed from a middle movement of his Second Symphony. An organ symphony is in itself a curiosity which has had extremely limited success in the concert hall, and this one is not about to change that fact. The work lacks form and thematic variety and feels very much patched together. Its performance was bombastic without thoroughly satisfying. Why the very capable organ soloist Christian Schmitt has devoted himself to the recording of Widor’s complete works is a mystery, though one should be thankful that someone has taken this take upon himself for the sake of musicology.

Brahms' German Requiem is always an experience. The opening two movements have to raise the hair on the arms of any living and breathing creature… when the choir repeats, unison and forte “Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras…” I dare anyone to be able to breathe freely. Moreover, the experience of hearing the same choir (though naturally with very few of the same members) perform the work as did at its partial première in 1867 is humbling. The Singverein is an actual “Dilletantenensemble”; a true collection of passionate amateurs with a history of over 150 years. Established by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien in 1812, the choir is an established part of both the Musikverein itself and the international musical scene.

The Singverein and Akademieorchester were joined by Swedish soprano Malin Hartelius, who survived the incredibly stressful soprano solo “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit” with dignity, and anarchistic baritone, Florian Boesch a voice to be reckoned with, who also never lacks something, musically, to say.

***11