Olari Elts sometimes conducted as if, like members of this matinee concert audience, he had an eye on the clock and feared missing a coach or train.
The opening of Schubert’s fifth symphony, a joyous orchestral chuckle, was so tight-lipped and hasty the flute’s opening phrase was only partly audible. After a rather charmless allegro, matters improved.
Underneath its insouciant surface the symphony hides darker currents, as do many Schubert songs. Elts was good at revealing them, especially in the third movement’s trio, but the symphony’s divine nonchalance, and the subtle rubato essential for its Viennese lilt, escaped him.
Schubert’s Six German Dances, originally piano miniatures, are gems in their orchestral form. While Anton Webern’s music may be intimidatingly cerebral these sparkling orchestrations reveal another side of his personality. A passage for solo violin and pizzicato accompaniment was elegantly played by the CBSO strings.
Schubert’s symphony uses a tiny orchestra but the forces used by Elts for Brahms’ Haydn Variations and Violin Concerto were not much greater. This was post-authentic performance Brahms: brisk, business-like and scornful of rhetoric. The approach worked in the variations with some telling contributions from the CBSO winds, although it’s not a performance to live in the memory.
A problem arose in the concerto since the soloist, the strapping young Norwegian Henning Kraggerud, approached the music very differently. He produced a rich and powerful sound aided by generous, sometimes overgenerous vibrato.
Kraggerud really needed suitably a beefed-up orchestra.