The National Concert Hall ended its 2017/18 International Concert Season recently with the first visit to Ireland of the Würth Philharmonic Orchestra. Initially I mistakenly thought Würth to be a place but closer scrutiny revealed it to be the name of an individual – the businessman, philanthropist and art collector, Reinhold Würth.
Known in Germany as ‘king of the screws’, Reinhold Würth took over the operation of his father’s firm, which made small pieces of joinery, in 1954 when he was nineteen.
Adolf Würth had set the company up in the immediate aftermath of WWII in Künzelsau in the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany.
Now a multi-millionaire, Würth, with his wife Carmen, founded the Würth Philharmonic two years ago establishing it as the resident orchestra of the main concert hall within the Carmen Würth Forum – a newly-built complex in Künzelsau housing an extensive cultural and conference centre.
While the Philharmonic’s publicity indicated an ensemble of 50 musicians coming from some 25 countries among its ranks, over 70 named artists took to the stage at the NCH. While many of those listed suggested Eastern European origins, Aoife O’Connor, in the first violin section, was obviously not one of them.
The Philharmonic came to the NCH with Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov, always a welcome visitor, as both soloist and conductor. Vengerov’s virtuosity was shown to scintillating effect in Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, written in 1863 for the Spanish violin wizard Pablo de Sarasate.
But there was something deeper than showmanship in Vengerov’s magical playing – his inherent musical feeling. This came to the fore in his interpretation of Max Bruch’s ever-popular G minor Violin Concerto. Vengerov’s perfectly centred intonation and his immaculate phrasing of Bruch’s sensitive melodic lines showed the essence of the score in all its Romantic richness. Vengerov, by the way, used a magnificent Stradivarius instrument dating from 1727.
With considerable aplomb, the young Greek conductor Stamatia Karampini directed the two violin works as well as Johann Strauss’ sparkling Die Fledermaus overture. Ms Karampini’s musicianship is gaining increasing respect through her engagements with a number of prestigious European orchestras.
Vengerov took to the conductor’s rostrum for the principal work of the evening – Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony. The performance was passionate, dramatic and, at times, positively exhilarating.
The symphony was written between August and October 1953 following the death of Stalin earlier that year. The composer’s 9th Symphony had been banned in 1948 by ‘special decree’. Known as the ‘Zhdanov Doctrine’ (after the notorious Andrei Zhdanov, director of the USSR’s cultural policy), this dictated that all forms of cultural expression had to adhere strictly to state control and reject all forms of Western influence or ‘cosmopolitanism’. Some composers, Prokofiev included, complied but Shostakovich, who bore the brunt of the attack, did not and, withdrawing within himself, bided his time.
Vengerov, who seemed to have the symphony’s music in his veins, drew a powerful response from the Würth musicians, especially their robust strings and pulsating percussion, and demonstrated Shostakovich’s defiance in all its riveting intensity.