EExtended UK tours by EU orchestras are, it is suspected, likely to be rare for some time to come. A combination of the lingering consequences of the pandemic and the additional layers of bureaucracy imposed by Brexit make organizing such ventures much more difficult, so the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra’s current six-date tour – its first visit since 1974 – is rather remarkable.
Jan Latham-Koenig is the conductor of all concerts, which include the music of the most famous Croatian composer, Dora Pejacevic, alongside works from the repertoire of Sibelius and Mahler. The opening of the tour, in the rather brilliant, sometimes unforgiving acoustics of the Anvil, suggested that the Zagreb Orchestra was a spirited and very accomplished group, which more than compensated for its occasional lack of tonal refinement with an energy and a liveliness that Latham-Koenig exploited in his interpretation of Mahler’s First Symphony. It was indeed an interpretation presented in audacious primary colours, without much subtlety but with very strong, almost impetuous climaxes, which gave the brass much more chance of asserting itself than the woodwinds of the orchestra.
This assertiveness led to some problems with balance, and in the Sibelius Violin Concerto too there were passages in which the soloist, Tamsin Waley-Cohen, had to fight a little too much to make his finely chiseled lyricism heard. But the general profile of his approach – stern and fast in the first two movements, much more scruffy in the finale – stood out clearly, even when certain details were obscured.
Four of Pejačević’s orchestral songs, sung by soprano Marija Vidović, had opened the concert. The 1915 arrangements of poems by Karl Kraus and Rilke are ambitious late romantic essays, with Strauss and perhaps Zemlinsky as stylistic references, while the two Butterfly Songs, composed in 1920, just three years before Pejačević died in the age of 38, are charming miniatures. , composed with the lightest of touches, which Vidović presented with just the right combination of tact and charm.
At Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham on April 8and on tour until April 14.