Saturday 14 May 2016

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under their Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya provide taut, powerful and sympathetic performances of Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra and Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor as orchestrated by Schoenberg on a new release from Harmonia Mundi

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under their Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya have released a new recording for Harmonia Mundi  featuring music by Lutosławski and Brahms.

HMU 807668

It was the conductor Witold Rowicki who requested from Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) a new work to show of the recently formed Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. What he got was a brilliant work that has become the most popular of all of Lutosławski’s works.

Written between 1950 and 1954 the Concerto for Orchestra is in three movements. Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra bring a purposeful opening to the Intrada. Allegro maestoso with timpani keeping a fine pulse over which the strings slowly develop the theme. This conductor doesn’t hang around, keeping up the pace nicely before falling back and slowing to bring some lovely details. Yet soon a real menace returns as the music takes off once more. The brass of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra bring a real weight and presence as does the whole orchestra in the climaxes. This conductor often brings the feeling of a bubbling cauldron of pent up energy and menace yet he also finds some lovely moments of withdrawn calm.

The strings bring some finely textured, quicksilver playing in the opening of the Capriccio notturno ed Arioso. Vivace, as do the woodwind and percussion. Even the piano has a wonderfully light and fluent intervention. This is a brilliantly done movement with gossamer textures, superb orchestral playing. When the music suddenly rises the contrast is marked. The rapid strings return with brass darting in and out of the texture before beautifully dovetailing the orchestral textures into the hushed side drum and timpani of the coda.

The Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale. Andante con moto rises slowly and quietly out of pizzicato basses. When the piano phrases occur they have clipped phrasing. An oboe brings its lovely theme with this conductor controlling the slow rise of the orchestra remarkably through brass outbursts and woodwind arabesques finding Lutosławski’s blocks of sound as well as every little instrumental detail. The music rises with an unstoppable force to a climax that is overwhelming before exhausting its power and falling to a hush on a piano chord that is repeated as the strings find a wonderfully hushed delicate sound. The music suddenly takes off again with this conductor knowing just how to contrast the hushed and powerful passages creating a real contrast. Later the orchestra really pushes forward with abandon through passages of intense drama with some wild passages brilliantly played. They lead to a section of most poetic calm with many lovely details for little instrumental groups and percussion before forging ahead to a spectacular coda.

This is a performance of some power that, nevertheless, is much more nuanced than others.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote his Piano Quartet in G minor Op.25 in 1861and it was premiered that year in Hamburg with the piano part taken by Clara Schumann.  Arnold Schoenberg’s (1874-1951) orchestration of the Piano Quartet was premiered in Los Angeles in 1938. Schoenberg explained the reason for undertaking the orchestration in a letter to a critic. ‘I like the piece. It is seldom played. It is always very badly played, because the better the pianist, the louder he plays and you hear nothing from the strings. I wanted once to hear everything and this I achieved.’

The Allegro brings some lovely mellifluous sonorities from the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. There is also much taut playing and a real heft as the music rises in drama revealing a really Brahmsian orchestral flavour. They find many moments of lighter rhythmic buoyancy reminding us that this is a youthful work. Miguel Harth-Bedoya and his players shape and phrase this music beautifully, bringing dynamic contrasts that re-inforce the emotional side of the music. They help this music to retain much of its original character with some very fine passages of instrumental detail laid open, often finding a brooding undercurrent.

Schoenberg’s sensitive orchestration is very much revealed in the delightful Intermezzo. Allegro ma non Troppo, the orchestra finding a lovely rhythmic fluency, whilst developing and shaping this movement to fine effect. There are passages of light and transparent textures before arriving at a lovely conclusion.

The Andante con moto brings a really lovely Brahmsian melody full of fine string sonorities, with this conductor keeping a really tight rein shaping phrases quite beautifully. There are many lovely instrumental moments filtering through with, again this conductor finding the rhythmic pulse. They suddenly let the music swell up and towards the coda, when the music peaks, it positively glows.

The Rondo alla zingarese. Presto brings a crisp forward drive, pointing up Brahms’ gypsy inspired music. Here the percussion bring some terrific moments as the music hurtles forward with very fine, fluent, agile instrumental contributions. This music sparkles with life with some very fine orchestral textures. Harth-Bedoya beautifully shapes the music as it continually rises through passages of increasing drive with some particularly fine woodwind passages where they bring a chamber quality to what, after all, was originally a chamber piece, before hurtling forward to the coda.

This is a wonderfully taut, beautifully shaped performance revealing Schoenberg’s wonderfully sympathetic orchestration. 

Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra receive an excellent SACD recording from the Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, Texas and there are useful booklet notes. 

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