Grosser Saal, Alte Oper, February 7th, 2014
Andrés Orozco-Estrada doesn't officially take over as chief conductor of the hr-Sinfonieorchester -- or the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra as it is known in English -- until next season.
But if this concert is anything to go by, the new era under the 36-year-old Colombian is going to be very exciting.
Billed as a "musical visiting card" by Frankfurt Radio, the programme
for the orchestra's regular subscription series concert in the city's Alte Oper was
impressively eclectic, as if Orozco-Estrada was keen to show off his versatility and wide
repertoire: Haydn's 59th Symphony, Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto with Arabella Steinbacher as soloist, a world premiere of a brand new work entitled Tagebuch by Friedrich Cerha and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.
Aside from the Rachmaninov suite, neither of other two established works are exactly standard concert hall fare.
Haydn's Fire Symphony is not one of his better known and Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto is less familiar and much less frequently performed than his Second.
It was clear from the first bar of the Haydn that we were in for an exciting evening.
Orozco-Estrada is no period instrument specialist, but with valveless horns and minimal use of vibrato by the strings, this was a modern orchestra with modern turning fully embracing historically informed performance practices with sharp dynamics, pert articulation and bright and brisk tempi.
The Prokofiev with its much larger orchestra was equally flawless and Arabella Steinbacher impressed with her lithe, athletic tone and assured technical command.
As an encore, she played the first movement of Eugène Ysaÿe's Second Solo Sonata.
Cerha's Tagebuch for orchestra was commissioned by Frankfurt Radio and was composed in 2012.
It comprises eight miniature sketches of contrasting character and lasts just 16 minutes in total.
The orchestration is luminous, the musical argument lucid and the pieces shimmer with spontaneity.
Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances showed just what a fine ensemble the hr-Sinfonieorchester has turned into in its years under Paavo Järvi.
The string sound in particular has taken on a deeper bloom and richer sheen than before and the woodwind are immaculate and the brass top-notch, too.
This was a taut and muscular reading of Rachmaninov's late masterpiece that really packed a punch, the massive orchestral forces coiled like a spring.
While Paavo Järvi cut a very cool figure on the podium, using only the very minimum of gestures, Orozco-Estrada is much more expressive, almost dancing as he coaxes the sound out he wants out of the orchestra.
Järvi's departure from Frankurt after just seven years was a major loss to the city's classical music scene -- even if he will return regularly as Conductor Laureate.
But the hr-Sinfonieorchester appears to have found a more than worthy successor in Orozco-Estrada -- as long as he doesn't overstretch himself with his commitments as chief conductor of the Houston Symphony and principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic.