I'm not quite sure why the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich is billed as the Vienna Tonkunstler Orchestra over here, but I suppose it does sound more glamorous than the strictly accurate Composers' Orchestra of Lower Austria.
Despite some significant former chief conductors like Fabio Luisi and Kristjan Järvi, the orchestra, predominantly young and impressively multi-gender/cultural, has generally been considered outside the top rank. That opinion has been open to revision recently with the arrival in 2009 of the current incumbent, the Colombian-born Andrés Orozco-Estrada.
He's been picking up rave reviews locally, not just for his expertise with the Tonkünstler, but also a last-minute stand-in job with the Vienna Philharmonic last October - "one of the most sensational Philharmonic debuts in memory" said the Wiener Zeitung. It's not often that Cadogan Hall dishes up anything quite this worthy of attention.
As they launched into the Nozze di Figaro overture, it was immediately obvious what all the fuss is about. The orchestra's playing was crisp, alive and alert, not to mention astonishingly clear, and brimming with joy and mischief. On top of that, it was some of the most technically competent conducting I've ever seen. Orozco-Estrada's economical and precise gestures articulate his intentions unmistakeably, and he exudes an electrifying energy. You can see exactly what he's after, and he gets it.
Beethoven's Emperor Concerto was even better. Soloist Natasha Paremski (recently modulated from a pouting blonde into a grave, grown-up brunette) spiked some pedestrian playing with a few inspired moments and interesting dynamic choices that hinted at greater promise. Orozco-Estrada wove her contributions into the orchestral texture brilliantly - even some true pianissimos were delicately cushioned.
The first movement was exhilarating enough to squeeze out a bit of applause from the full house of Chelsea codgers. But this was not archetypal young man's conducting, where thrills and spills compensate for ragged edges and lack of structure. The measured tempo of the second movement proved a stately contrast, and the teasing transition to the final movement was brilliantly handled.
Brahms' Second presented a different sort of challenge. You could have danced to Orozco-Estrada's springy tempos - even the Adagio had a tempting lilt. Sparklingly lucid textures seemed to float through the air and every detail was calibrated to register. Cadogan Hall tends to be associated more with worthy charity concerts and dodgy Russian visitors - it's a pity they can't make better use of the wonderful acoustic with more concerts of this quality.