The Royal Danish Orchestra and its conductor Michael Boder presented this brilliantly planned programme of Schoenberg’s nervy monodrama Erwartung sandwiched by two works by Danish composers. With its eerie opening, including flutter-tongued woodwinds, Per Nørgård’s Iris set the tone perfectly, music that is initially unsettled until gradually developing a pulsing quality that ushers in other instruments, a prominent, rather elegiac clarinet flourish proving to be the core of the work. The volume increases until an aggressive burst from the brass and the music fades away in an unresolved way. With some fantastic playing, this thoroughly vivid performance suggested that Iris deserves to be heard more often.
Following on the theme of uncertainty, next was Schoenberg’s 30-minute extravaganza for soprano and orchestra, Erwartung (Expectation). Magdalena Anna Hofmann, singing from memory, revealed a strong and characterful voice with a rich middle register allied to a rather metallic top range, which suited the character’s fluctuating moods and transient thoughts of warmth, jealousy, anxiety, resolve and deep despair. Her performance was internalised allowing one to focus on the text (a shame there were no surtitles). Hofmann has excellent diction however – a real plus! Thanks to Boder’s sympathetic conducting, the orchestra provided washes of sound without overwhelming the singer. Erwartung is an unsettling piece and best experienced live – and here exerted its curious magic.
The second half consisted of Carl Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony. Fascinating to hear the work played by musicians who practically have this score in their genes. It was a thrilling account and the interrupting side drum and other percussive effects of the first movement were handled brilliantly, and the clarinet’s prominence chimed with the Nørgård. Intelligent programming indeed! As a delightful encore, the evening was rounded off by a rumbustious account of the Overture to Nielsen’s opera Maskerade.