This season, the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya (OBC) is turning its eyes towards Bach, whilst at the same time programming the usual great symphonic repertoire, as well as contemporary composers. Here, Kazushi Ono gathered a Bach concerto (transcribed for violin), a rarely-performed work by Schumann and Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra.

Frank Peter Zimmermann © Harald Hoffmann | Hänssler Classic
Frank Peter Zimmermann
© Harald Hoffmann | Hänssler Classic

It is a good idea for modern symphony orchestras to reclaim Bach from period instrument ensembles as it is possible to hear different sonorities and details in transcriptions and performing traditions. Inviting Frank Peter Zimmermann to play Bach was also an excellent idea, as it was to complete his performance with a rarity: Schumann's Fantasy in C major for violin and orchestra. The OBC were performing both works for the first time in its history. With Strauss’ Zarathustra, one of the most well-known orchestral works, the question was: how well would the programme work?

Wilfried Fischer made his transcription for violin of Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D minor BWV 1052 in 1970. Zimmermann showed his mastery right from the beginning, with a deep understanding of the musical message that underlies Bach’s score. Avoiding vibrato and unnecessary ornamentation, he delivered a beautiful performance with virtuosity but without fireworks. His phrasing was consistent and he found the balance between the external movements’ energy (both Allegros) and the middle one, a delicate Adagio. A reduced OBC did its best to perform repertoire that wants to feel like its own, but is not yet entirely at home playing Baroque repertoire. It is usual to perform this kind of work without a conductor, so Kazushi Ono’s presence seemed a little redundant. The orchestra's phrasing was unconsistent, sometimes blurred. It is worth mentioning the good work of the continuo, with the presence of harpsichordist Eva del Campo, who knows Bach’s music well and was able to find a sense of unity that otherwise was missed.

It was also the first time that the OBC performed Schumann’s Violin Fantasy. It is a really unusual work to find in concert programmes: demanding for the soloist, with the orchestral part is reduced to an accompaniment. This was the best performance of the concert: the orchestra feel far more comfortable with Romantic repertoire and Zimmermann had the possibility to show his powerful talent. Full of energy and delicacy at the same time, he led a vibrant performance of this amazing score. The cadenza, which Schumann wrote himself instead of allowing the performer to create it, was the zenith of the night, together with a fragment of a Partita by Bach offered as an encore.

In the second half, the OBC performed Also sprach Zarathustra. It was a correct interpretation, with a good balance between the different sections. Ono’s vision highlighted the details of the score, giving pre-eminence to the timbral experimentation of Strauss. The relation between flutes, oboes and strings in Des Grablied was a beautiful example. Ono's minimal conducting style seemed to be sometimes imprecise and a a global vision of the score was missed.