To understand what happened on the stage past Wednesday in L’Auditori (Barcelona), it is necessary to analyze the context of the concert that brought together the Freiburger Barockorchester, violinist Isabelle Faust and conductor Pablo Heras-Casado. The first issue to consider is that each of them separately is an excellent performer. Moreover, they have played together on many occasions and the complicity between the orchestra, soloist and conductor is evident, so we have fine performers who enjoy making music together. Give them a challenge and plenty of time to rehearse, and it will be a massive success. This is exactly what happened past Wednesday.

Isabelle Faust © Josep Molina
Isabelle Faust
© Josep Molina

The FBO, Faust and Heras-Casado spent three complete days recording in L’Auditori a CD with the works they then presented in the concert. They had previously played Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Fifth Symphony before, so when they decided to record these works they already felt confident with them, and even more after those three days.

The concert started with the B minor Overture The Hebrides, beautifully played. In his score, Mendelssohn tried to depict the ambiance of a cave he visited in Scotland. From darkness to admiration in front of magnificent nature, the FBO and Heras-Casado guided us through the subtleties of music that has been seen as a precedent of some of the best Wagnerian episodes (although Wagner despised Mendelssohn’s music).

Isabelle Faust knows the Violin Concerto well, the work having been in her repertoire for years. But in this concert, the rapport between her and the orchestra allowed her to deliver an astonishing interpretation, fresh, full of energy and good taste. It was clear from the very beginning, as she started with a charming mezzo piano, her sound merged into the orchestra, to immediately start a long crescendo and appear as the protagonist at the end of the first phrase. It was breathtaking. Mendelssohn’s concerto is virtuosistic, but Faust did not put the accent on fireworks, but on musicality and the relationships with the orchestra. Heras-Casado and the orchestra were sensitive accompanists, an exhibition of precision and ability to find the best colors for every phrase, as did Faust. The first movement Allegro appassionato was magnificent, in contrast with the intimate Andante. The final Allegretto-Allegro was a catharsis, the performers becoming a perfect machine that produced mass emotions. Unforgettable.

The second half was devoted to Mendelssohn’s Fifth Symphony, named the Reformation Symphony as it was a commission to celebrate 300 years of the publication of Confessio Augustana, considered the first public defence of Lutheranism. This work is not considered among the greatest symphonies in history and even the composer did not count it among his best. Although the performance was correct, it didn’t stir the same feelings as the concerto. Moreover, the acoustics of the venue did not help at all. It seems that Heras-Casado thought of the orchestra in terms of the previous day's recording rather than strictly for the concert. It was perfect for the concerto, but maybe the symphony would have required more powerful strings in a hall where the sound of violins, violas and cellos tend to be blurred when smaller orchestras, like the FBO, are on the stage. 

In any case, it was an outstanding concert, with impressive performers who love to play together and had time enough to prepare. What a wonderful world, if this happened more often!