After the emotional scenes the evening before, when the Proms bade a dewy-eyed farewell to nonagenarian Bernard Haitink, there was always going to be the danger of a sense of anti-climax approaching the next concert. We needn’t have worried. Although Andrés Orozco-Estrada has a very different style to Haitink, he drew playing from the Vienna Philharmonic that was equally wondrous in performances of Dvořák and Korngold that culminated in a lovingly played account of the “New World” Symphony that felt like the aural equivalent of a warm embrace.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Andrés Orozco-Estrada
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Where Haitink’s conducting is authoritative, but unobtrusive, Orozco-Estrada is a live wire, alert, constantly attending to different sections, an ear to the engine, fine-tuning a well-oiled machine. And it works. I’ve seen the Vienna Phil run on autopilot – an entire Haydn symphony performed without so much as a glance up from their music stands – but it has real chemistry with Orozco-Estrada. It’s not about authoritarian control either. In the first movement of the “New World”, he allowed principal flautist Silvia Careddu the space to airily shape her soft-breathed melody and then encouraged the strings to echo her phrasing. That’s not interventionist – it’s a conductor who asks the players to listen to each other. Orozco-Estrada’s body language – smiles, encouraging gestures, silent applause – drew the warmest playing. The players genuinely seemed to be in their element.

The Vienna Phil is a superstar orchestra, yet it eschews a high-powered, glossy sound. There’s no turbo-charged decibel crunching, nor principals jostling for the limelight. Instead, there’s good old-fashioned, central European manners: a sweet amber glow to the strings; a woodwind section that blends with great homogeneity; a rounded brass sound that doesn’t aim to sandblast the hall. Clemens Horak displayed that typically Viennese oboe tone – not too creamy and with a splash of lemon acidity – adding great character to Dvořák’s The Noon Witch that opened the programme. He was well supported by fellow woodwind principals Gregor Hinterreiter (clarinet) and Sophie Dervaux (bassoon).

Andrés Orozco-Estrada © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Andrés Orozco-Estrada
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

The brass drove the first movement coda of the “New World” excitingly, yet this was never a hell-for-leather ride; it was more about relishing the journey itself and admiring the view from the window. There were beautiful details to admire, not least Wolfgang Plank’s aching cor anglais solo in the Largo, resting on the plush cushion laid out by the brass introduction. The Molto vivace third movement bounced along, despite a few ensemble slips, and the way Orozco-Estrada paced the finale, where Dvořák recalls themes from the earlier movements, was masterly.

Leonidas Kavakos and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Leonidas Kavakos and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Although Dvořák’s symphony reflects the composer’s experiences in America, it very much pines for his Czech roots. Likewise with Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto, performed by Leonidas Kavakos. A post-war product of Hollywood – Korngold even recycled themes from his film scores – it nonetheless harks back to the Vienna of his childhood. Kavakos’ lean tone and soft vibrato suited his tasteful approach to the concerto, although he was able to employ steely double-stopping and a powerful trill when required. He handled the Romanze as delicately as spun sugar, while the finale – where the Silver Screen is to the fore – was a delight, particularly when the Vienna horns greedily tucked into the theme. Kavakos, modest, unassuming, asked permission from the concertmaster to play an encore – a fiendish arrangement of Tarrega’s guitar lollipop Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Not to be outdone, Orozco-Estrada’s post-Dvořák offering played to the gallery – and the orchestra’s roots – with Josef Strauss' polka-schnell Ohne Sorgen!, turning his baton to the Prommers to encourage precise – well, sometimes – audience participation. Herrlich.


This review has been amended to correctly identify the principal flautist, who was not listed in the Proms programme

*****