One of the most interesting elements of musical life in London is the Zurich International Series which provides regular opportunities to hear orchestras which one might not otherwise encounter as easily. This concert marked the beginning of a three concert residency for the Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra at the Cadogan Hall under Yutaka Sado who joined the ensemble as its Principal Conductor last season, just one stop in a UK-wide tour which includes concerts in Wales and Scotland.

Yutaka Sado © Yuji Hori
Yutaka Sado
© Yuji Hori

The programme was the classic bill of fare for an orchestra on tour; big works assembled purely in the interests of showing off the orchestra rather than trying to offer any points of thought in juxtaposition of pieces – understandable, but a shame nonetheless. Preceding the main works was an entirely functional amuse-bouche of the overture to Le nozze di Figaro. Sado drew a plush sound from the Tonkünstler, but it lacked the piece’s ideal buzz and business, the strings too heavy for Mozart’s fleet writing and the woodwind crisp, but lacking zest. The brass, though, had a mild, wry undertone that hinted at the opera’s humour.

Angela Hewitt joined Sado on stage for Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 4 in G major, which is opened not by the orchestra, but by the pianist, ground-breaking for its time. Hewitt’s interpretation was consistently appealing; a study in grace and elegance which struck a careful balance between subtlety of reading and clarity of delivery. Phrases were sculpted and precisely delivered, shifts in dynamic gentle and easy. There were, however, balance issues within the orchestra which were slightly jarring; one often encounters the pianist in conflict with the ensemble in this work, but here the strings seemed to be at odds with their orchestral counterparts. That heaviness in the Mozart was present again here, a heady velvety sound that muffled the woodwind and dulled the brass; a lovely sound, but one that weighed heavily on the piece. It worked well, though, for the violent orchestra phrases in the Andante against the purity of Hewitt’s playing, achieving between them at times an atmosphere of hushed tension, assisted by judicious tempi from Sado.

After the interval, a piece to which many have turned in light of recent events in the United States. Dvořák’s Symphony no. 9 in E minor was written while the composer spent two and half years in New York as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America, raking in the fees and longing to return to Europe. The Tonkünstler finally seemed to be at ease; the varnished oak of the deeper strings offering a solid base through which the woodwind, at long last, was able to emerge, giving a strong performance in the Adagio. The brass too was solid; a little lethargic, but full and rounded. A little more push from Sado in places in that first movement would not have gone amiss. The cor anglais solo in the Largo was delicate, but vibrant; richly evocative of a simpler land. A colourful Scherzo was well-phrased by Sado; an ebbing texture racking the tension up before the medley of the Allegro. A very decent start to the Tonkünstler’s residency at the Cadogan.

***11