In this last concert in the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Riccardo Chailly’s brief residency at the Barbican, all concerned were on top form. The programme showed the orchestra at its Germanic best, with different flavoured works by Richard Strauss and, to show their early music credentials, a Mozart concerto.

Riccardo Chailly © Gert Mothes
Riccardo Chailly
© Gert Mothes
Kicking off with Strauss’ early flirtation with mortality, Tod und Verklärung, the hesitant opening was perfectly judged by Chailly and when the dynamic central section explodes into life it was punchier than usual. This was largely due to the wonderfully rich sounding brass and horn sections, which brought a truly positive weight to the fortissimos which was thrilling. A relatively small string section came into their own, with a rich and yet lean sound, in the final ‘transfiguration’ section of the work when the six-note motto theme is given free rein to blossom. The rather awkward structure of the work, made absolute sense in this luminous performance.

A greatly slimmed-down band had the pleasure of accompanying Martin Fröst in Mozart’s exquisite late Clarinet Concerto in A major. And what a star performer he genuinely is, with the ability to communicate with his audience through sheer musicality and effortless virtuosity. This effortless quality is a prerequisite in this concerto, especially in the first two movements. Fröst certainly brought a calm poise to the first movement at a swift tempo, showing us the evenness of tone throughout the range of the instrument. In the finale he was able to show off more obviously, with the openly virtuosic passages brought off with aplomb and at a fast tempo again. A performance to convert even the hardest hearted sceptics to the joys of Mozart’s music.

Next up was Strauss' Metamorphosen, composed over half a century later than Tod und Verklärung and a very different kettle of fish. Composed in 1945 as the war was ending and the composer had seen his beloved Dresden reduced to rubble, this piece sums up the frustration, horror and sadness he felt as a result of witnessing the chaos and violence caused by 13 years of Nazi rule. It is a work of real depth and first-hand emotion. Chailly and his 23 string players found exactly the right path to follow, emphasising the fractured chamber music qualities of the part writing while coalescing at key moments with a restrained richness of sound.  

The evening was rounded off with a performance of Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche that was full of character and wit. The orchestra evidently relished the extrovert rhythmic complexities and vivid colours of this fantastic piece, perhaps the composer’s greatest orchestral work. A superb orchestra, particularly in this repertoire, conducted faultlessly by a conductor at the pinnacle of his career. What a treat!

*****