The Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra is an impressive beast, not least in its decibel level. Such was the volume that erupted at the start of Wagner’s Overture to Die Meistersinger that one might have temporarily forgotten that this is a Vorspiel to a comic opera. But there was such richness in the orchestra’s overall tone (with violins adjacent to each other and violas taking the usual cello position) and such clarity that any notions of wanting to tame this savage beast were soon cast aside. Their conductor Michael Sanderling traded pomp and ceremony for energy and excitement. Where some deliver this score in an expansive reading this was a no nonsense account with just enough breathing space between the themes to prevent the whole thing from sounding like an unstoppable juggernaut.

Michael Sanderling © Nikolaj Lund | IMG
Michael Sanderling
© Nikolaj Lund | IMG

A reduced Dresden Philharmonic was then joined by the acclaimed Russian pianist Andrei Korobeinikov for Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor. Not yet thirty, Korobeinikov has already made his mark on the international concert platform and in the recording studio, winning a Diapason d’Or for his 2008 CD of Scriabin’s Etudes. The first movement of the Schumann is headed Allegro affettuoso; we heard fast with occasional glimpses of poetic tenderness, but this was mostly relinquished for a directness of expression that made clear the soloist’s formidable technique and determinedly unsentimental approach. This seemed to suit the driving pace that Sanderling set, and one that created all the more relief when the calmer A flat section arrived. Clarinet and oboe phrases were wonderfully shaped throughout and the strings responded superbly to their varied role in the proceedings. To the closing Allegro molto Sanderling brought an edge of the seat excitement. 

Korobeinikov found a more eloquent quality for the Intermezzo and kept a firm control over tonal shading. The movement’s arching cello theme (with just a slight lengthening of the first note) narrowly escaped being over-egged, but its poignancy was nicely emphasised. It was the finale that enabled us to realise just how good the Dresden orchestra has become since Sanderling took over as its Principal Conductor in 2011. The movement’s quirky march in ¾ time revealed the jaw-dropping discipline of the string section – matchless in ensemble and articulation. Equally impressive was the momentum with which Sanderling carried the movement to its exhilarating close. As an encore Korobeinikov gave Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op.12 No.2.

Following the interval Sanderling and his orchestra made clear their admiration for Brahms Symphony no.4 in E minor. This was a meticulously prepared account that just seemed to get better and better with each movement. In spite of the fact that conductor and orchestra were near the end of a tour, this performance could not have been less routine or less energetic – everyone played with total dedication in a way that is not always heard in every provincial concert hall. From the sighing opening theme through to the final climactic statement of the finale the players were on superlative form.

The first movement was taut (perhaps too much so in places) yet shaped in a way that made Brahms’ symphonic logic perfectly clear. Horns were effortlessly smooth at the beginning of the Andante and the accompanying pizzicato strings were a model of precision. The third movement was striking for its panache and if the triangle player was sometimes lost in the excitement the sense of joie de vivre was inescapable. Until now Sanderling had been relatively undemonstrative but here he galvanised his players so that the movement ended at fever pitch. The variations of the last movement produced further wonders and included an especially eloquent flute solo and richly dark brass tones. But it was quality of the string playing that stood out most memorably with fire-in-the-belly tone that left a deep impression. To round off the concert we were treated to Brahms’ Hungarian dance no. 5 – a great end to a marvellous evening.