The Wiener Symphoniker and the Konzerthaus introduced a novel new concept this season, a series of Friday night concerts called Fridays@7. The novelty lies in having concerts begin a half hour earlier than normal on certain Friday nights, presenting a shorter concert programme without intermission in the official hall, then ringing out the evening with an after-programme with drinks downstairs in the foyer. It got off to a bang last month, but fell flat this past Friday when it became nothing more than a hushed, thrown-together chamber music concert without printed programs or chairs.

Renaud Capuçon © Mat Hennek
Renaud Capuçon
© Mat Hennek

But let’s focus on the positives first, and there were many, starting with the world première of prolific composer Wolfgang Rihm’s sixth work for violin and piano, “Gedicht des Mahlers” under the steady baton and polished bow of Philippe Jordan and Renaud Capuçon, respectively. Rihm’s work for violin and orchestra is a predominantly lightly scored series of orchestral soundscapes through which the violin moves and sings nearly without interruption. The harmonic language waxes and wanes from periods of relaxation to those of great tension and discord until the work culminates in an enormous burst of orchestral sound, then slowly dissipates to a reflective close. Capuçon, to whom the work is dedicated, negotiated the lengthy melodic line with great delicacy, detail and sensitivity. His legato is impeccable and he never misses the centre of a note. Jordan led the Symphoniker through the score with his usual authority, the transparent soundscapes seeming at times to shimmer, and exploring the full dynamic spectrum of the orchestra as negotiate Rihm’s musical world. Bravo!

Dvorak’s Symphony no. 8 in G major ended the official programme, a work so filled with memorable themes and Bohemian charm that it should be the official music of walking across Charles Bridge for the first time. It is like musical comfort food: birdcalls and lush variations in the opening movement give way to exquisite filigree and colour in the Adagio. A charming waltz takes the place of the traditional third movement scherzo, and then all the brass get to strut their stuff in the finale. The entire work is so completely jovial that it is nearly impossible for the audience not to leave with smiles on their faces. Jordan and the Symphoniker were in excellent form, and while some the tempi were a bit on the sluggish side, there were plenty of risks taken through the intricate pianissimo passages and beautiful, virtuosic display that it was a very satisfying performance, demonstrated unequivocally through the enthusiastic applause of an enraptured audience.

And just when we were all having so much fun, mum and dad came home and ruined the party. After a short interval where the audience scrambled for standing room in the foyer or ordered drinks, the programme was announced (including timings). After a two minute Rihm work for clarinet, an 11 minute polka would follow. After that, a three minute break(!) followed by one or two movements of the Brahms Piano Quintet. We were reminded that chamber music required quiet attention, and dutifully hushed when we forgot. Instead of the jazzy, relaxed after-party from the opening Fridays@7 where people were free to chat, listen, drink and slowly drift out into the night at their pleasure, this felt like a mandatory chamber music concert without any chairs to sit in. I certainly hope that the Konzerthaus returns to its original concept; simply starting a concert a half hour early, does not an innovation make. 

***11