Andrés Orozco-Estrada has been feted as “a brilliant stand-in”, having replaced a number of more well-known conductors at short notice in Vienna, where he studied his craft. He is now the music director of the Tonkünstler Orchestra in Vienna having made an all-important career breakthrough.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada © Martin Sigmund
Andrés Orozco-Estrada
© Martin Sigmund

The Colombian was no stand-in for this concert, however. He was baton-less for the first half of the concert, using both hands vigorously and independently in a manner not unlike a string puppet-master. Under him, the CBSO played the Mozart items sweetly and stylishly. The string numbers were reduced and valveless trumpets were employed to produce a lean yet smooth sound.

Mozart’s Symphony no. 38 is a masterpiece of invention and counterpoint. It features the longest of his slow symphonic introductions, and has an unusual overall structure. It has only three movements (there is no minuet and trio) and so recalls his early symphonies. It also features the option to repeat both the first and second (exposition and development) sections of each movement. This presents a dilemma for the conductor mostly because the first movement can gain epic length if both repeats are taken and the similarity of the musical ideas can, in the wrong hands, suggest repetitiveness.

Orozco-Estrada’s neat solution was to take only the exposition repeats in the first and second movements and take both repeats in the high-jinks finale, which is unlikely to outstay its welcome. His sweeping gestures were employed to shape and sculpt phrases without impairing the momentum of the energetic first movement. The players were clearly enjoying playing this delightful music and were the equal of many a top-flight chamber orchestra that specialises in this sort of repertoire. Orozco-Estrada opted for an “in two” flowing tempo in the slow movement. He did not shy away from the melancholic and discordant elements that are so characteristic of the mature Mozart. The finale was infectious in its ebullience and I particularly enjoyed the chattering of the reed woodwind instruments.

Klara Ek was the soprano soloist for three contrasting arias from Le nozze di Figaro, Idomeneo and La finta giardiniera. She proved to be a fine choice for these arias and her keen sense of drama, combined with impeccable intonation and creamy timbre, made me wish to hear her in a complete production of one of these operas. Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra made sensitive and attentive accompanists.

Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is considered to be one of his most Classically-proportioned symphonies both in terms of structure and the size of the orchestral forces required. It nevertheless requires a fair battery of percussion and, here, we had a stage-filling string section. There is a suave elegance to the melodic lines, particularly in the opening movement, that is reminiscent of Mozart’s writing, too.

Given his sure handling of the Mozart works in the first half, I had high expectations for Oroszo-Estrada’s traversal of this symphony. There was certainly abundant elegance in Mahler’s sinuous writing but an early warning sign came in the form of the conductor’s extravagant pull-up in the lovely opening melody in the violins as the ethereal sleigh bells die out. It is marked poco rit in the score and, of course, is open to interpretation – but it gave an impression more of a knowing Viennese waltz than the child-like simplicity that I would have expected in this music. Also, climaxes seemed overwrought early on in this first movement, leaving little space for a general sense of progression. Clearly this is an orchestra with a significant pedigree in Mahler but the first movement seemed hard driven, perhaps belying an impatience to reach the more spectacular climaxes, such as the nightmarish central explosion which sees the sleigh bells return to herald the sinister trumpet fanfares that anticipate the composer’s Fifth Symphony.

Leader Lawrence Jackson was admirably acerbic in the “fiddle” part of the Scherzo second movement. The initial tempo seemed rather hurried, though, and the transition to the much broader, Ländler-like trio not terribly convincing. The slow movement suffered as the first had in having overwrought expression too early on. It felt like Orozco-Estrada did not really have a long-term view of the work, instead favouring the thrills of Mahler’s ingenious orchestration and climaxes.

Ek returned to the stage during this movement in readiness for her “Wunderhorn” solo in the finale. Her placement at the rear of the violins was a nice touch as her voice integrated nicely into the orchestral texture. However, while Ek’s richness of tone was a boon in the Mozart arias it was not quite the “childlike manner” that Mahler suggested. This was only a minor disappointment, though, in an otherwise beautiful performance of this last movement. It was just a pity that the rest of the performance of the symphony had not been this successful.

***11