For his concert with the winds of the Grazer Philharmoniker, Milan Turković chose two pieces of music that were basically the same even though they were written one hundred years apart by two men who, for all their differences, both knew Mozart by heart.

Milan Turković and the Grazer Philharmoniker winds © Dr Michael Nemeth
Milan Turković and the Grazer Philharmoniker winds
© Dr Michael Nemeth

In his elegant spoken introduction, Turković called Richard Strauss' early Serenade, Op.7, “an early masterpiece”, and the gentle, mellifluous Grazer performance made it sound like it was an aria for a lover lost in Figaro or Così. The oboe was lovely, restrained in the rich Germanic manner, and overall the band's nuances were so organically regulated that the music had a pleasing, untroubled inevitability Just before the end, they accentuated the same underlying pulse that appears at the beginning of the Adagio in Mozart's Gran Partita which followed.

The inclusion in both works of the optional double bass, and not a contrabassoon, added a delicious chocolate-colored texture to the low bass pedal notes, such as during the middle section of the Strauss, that was akin to what Great British Bake-Off aficionados would recognize as the foundation of a great Sachertorte, with the flutes at the end very sweet.

When Turković commented that Mozart meant his Gran Partita to be listened to, he was reflecting the size of the piece and also his lineage as one of his generation's finest bassoonists; the oboist then demonstrated Mozart's genius by showing how the ornate opening melody of the Adagio was actually a simple E flat major scale.

Milan Turković and the Grazer Philharmoniker winds © Elisabeth Probst
Milan Turković and the Grazer Philharmoniker winds
© Elisabeth Probst

Turković began the Mozart with an almost cut-time Largo before taking moderately fast and casually flexible tempos throughout. The exquisitely lovely playing included a persuasive way with grace notes at the beginning of phrases so that they served as elegant introductory flourishes and not just inconsequential chirps. Turković was always sure to give his charges a split second extra before introducing a new tune, as with the first Trio of the first Menuetto, which freed the players to establish character. He also made sure that the sultry dark colors produced by the pair of basset clarinets, whether in melodic lines or background atmosphere, would be heard.

In the Romanze, the beauty of the legato was paramount, nicely contrasted to the deliberately-phrased bassoons scurrying around in the central Allegretto section. The Variations movement provided their usual delights with the oboe solo floating magically over gurgling bassoon at the end of the penultimate Variation. When one of the bassoonists decorated his brief riff with added notes towards the end of the Rondo finale, the performance's only nod to historical performance practice, it might also have been an affectionate nod to the conductor.

This performance was reviewed from the Grazer Philharmoniker live video stream