Münchener Symphoniker is one of four professional symphony orchestras based in Munich, and although perhaps less well known than the Philharmoniker or the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, they are able to hold their own amidst the stiff competition. Tonight they performed a varied programme of Mozart and Bruckner under the baton of their principal conductor Georg Schmöhe, and they met the demands of contrasting music, giving an enjoyable and stylish interpretation of both works.

Georg Schmöhe © Peter von Felbert
Georg Schmöhe
© Peter von Felbert

Mozart's Symphony no. 39 in E flat was first on the programme. This work, the first of a trilogy of symphonies composed in the summer of 1788, is exemplary of Mozart's late style, combining fluency and ease of form with continued musical innovations. The work is particularly unusual in its lack of oboes, which gives it an overall softness of tone, and this is in turn reflected in the musical ideas themselves.

The performance began colourfully, with much contrast of tone and dynamic in the first movement's Allegro. The wonderful sense of balance and character continued into the second movement, with a warm, pastoral sound, combined with dark, stormy episodes. While the transparency of the relatively small string section's sound, with little vibrato, brought about some beautiful moments, I felt that at times Schmöhe neglected the middle and lower string parts, leaving some of the music's emotions untapped. The Minuet went along at quite a lick, giving it a lightness and energy it often lacks. The Ländler-like Trio adds a pastoral folk-music aspect to this movement, and here the woodwind section really came into their own, playing their solos with a beautiful simplicity. The Finale, while well played and enjoyable, never quite took off, and the lack of attention to inner voices left this technicolour movement somewhat monochrome.

Bruckner's Symphony no. 9 was his last, and only the first three movements were competed by the composer before his death. While many completions of the finale have been attempted, most orchestras continue to perform just the first three movements, ending with the Adagio. While this was not the composer's intention it produces a very solemn work, with a character somewhat similar to Tchaikovsky's Pathétique, but with far weightier opening movements.

While the small string section of just 31 players was appropriate for the Mozart, it was somewhat too small for the Bruckner. The powerful brass and characterful winds allowed the orchestra to produce a wide dynamic range and a varied character, but the strings were overpowered in the fortes, and we missed the complexity of their semiquaver lines in the tuttis, hearing only the block chords of the brass. The string tunes also lacked the richness that a large section brings, particularly the cello section with just five players. The lack of attention to inner parts and background ideas was also evident, and sometimes the solos, however beautifully played, were unable to fully project the character without the help of the accompaniment.

In spite of these reservations, the overall performance was enjoyable. Schmöhe paced the performance well and there were moments where you could feel the whole orchestra engaging, which were genuinely awe-inspiring. The Scherzo was vital and engaging, with some wonderfully phrased string lines, and the Trio light and playful, with some full bodied wind playing. The 'Dresden Amen' of the Adagio was magical, with the hushed brass and wind allowing for a moment of perfect balance. The strings also made the melodies here incredibly luxuriant, with the first violins creating a nice richness to the G-string melodies.

While I have some reservations about this performance it was nevertheless a very enjoyable concert. The Münchener Symphoniker, while sadly let down by their small numbers, managed to create some wonderful moments in both the Mozart and the Bruckner, with a variety of colours and a particularly high quality of wind playing. For anyone in Munich, this orchestra is well worth seeing.