Dresden Philharmonic

Usher Hall, Edinburgh, four stars

AS the RSNO was ending its European tour in the Dresden Phil’s fine new hall, the German city’s resident ensemble was out on the road itself, with Perth Festival and this Sunday afternoon concert on its schedule. Adding to the familiarity, the programme opened with the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, which the Scottish musicians had played on tour, and which Scottish Opera currently has on the road in two incarnations of the opera, including a splendid pocket edition which visited Perth Festival last week and is now on the road to the isles.

The big work in this all-Russian recital was Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5, and I can’t say I warmed to conductor Michael Sanderling’s somewhat detached, if beautifully poised, approach to this gloriously ambiguous piece, although others in the audience were evidently of a contrary opinion. There are great strengths in this orchestra, particularly the strings, and especially the violins, and the leader and her wind colleagues added beautiful details to the second movement, but the opening had lacked the tension required and only really moved into gear with the entry of the piano and horns. In Sanderling’s deliberate pacing, something really explosive was wanted later and it never really materialised.

The same difficulties were there in the conductor’s reading of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, but somehow better suited the playing of soloist Arabella Steinbacher, whose awesome technique comes with a coolness that made for a very fresh interpretation. Any temptation to over-indulge in the drama that is present in everything that the composer wrote was resisted, as Steinbacher left ample air around the first movement cadenza and found a lovely languid line through the slow movement, which also featured beautiful playing by the principal clarinet and principal flute.