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17.11.08

Ionarts at Large: Welser-Möst in Henze & Mozart


“We should play music, whenever it’s good music” answers Franz Welser-Möst to the question why he programmed Hans Werner Henze’s First Symphony with Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E-flat K482 and the “Prague” Symphony for the his concerts with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (October 30th/31st). His rejection of playing modern music only when it’s a world premiere is part of the same subtle, conservative dissent as his decision to put a Mozart Symphony at the end of the concert, rather than open with Mozart and finish with a romantic barnstormer; “grand, effect-orchestrated monsters”, as he calls them.

available at Amazon
Hans Werner Henze, Symphonies 1-6,
H.W.Henze / BPh, LSO
DG / Brilliant

Not that he’s no good at the latter. The Henze, arguably one such grand work, comes across elegiac and polished – sounding much more like a romantic symphony in the vain of Fortner (Henze’s teacher) or K.A.Hartmann, than a 20 year old composer’s Darmstadt debut. How much of that the tone-row based, loosely dodecaphonic, 1946 symphony owes to its 1964 and 1991 revisions I don’t know, but listening to the almost unchanged lyrical second movement (Notturno, lento) I venture to say: much less than it owed to the orchestra’s obviously well-rehearsed performance and the noble, aloof air FWM lent it.

In the evidently under-rehearsed concerto (pianist Gitti Pirner played nimble, understated and very affable Mozart), the orchestra earned demerits for a first movement full of flubs. They recovered in time for the symphony, which was given as full-bodied Mozart, just the way large symphony orchestras should play Classical music if they are not to sound silly. That big-band Mozart is not just a necessary exercise in de-coagulating an orchestra’s sound, clogged from too much heavy romantic fare, has been proven beyond all doubt by the Krips recordings with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips) which remain the acme of the art of tip-toeing with a body of 50 string players.

FWM didn’t achieve Kripsian lightness, but since the Prague Symphony’s three movements look forward to a grander type of symphony as much as Beethoven’s first two symphonies look back, it can take the heft that the BRSO gave it. FWM’s main achievements were lavishness without indulgence, gentility without preciousness, and (perhaps surprisingly) a sense of untamed excitement in the Presto.



Recommended Recordings (Welser-Möst):
FWM's reputation is that of an unexciting conductor who doesn't rise beyond surface-sheen and remains emotionally shallow and interpretatively bland. Any of these five recordings should prove that stereotype wrong (or at least too general to stick), especially the Schmidt recordings and the Alpine Symphony which I recommend as a HiFi, near-cinematic audio spectacle.


available at Amazon
F.Schmidt, Sy.4, F.W-M
/ LPO


available at Amazon
F.Schmidt, Book of 7 Seals, F.W-M / BRSO / René Pape, Chr.Oelze, et al.
available at Amazon
R.Strauss, Alpine Symphony, F.W-M / Gustav Mahler YO


available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Sys.5 & 7, F.W-M
/ LPO
available at Amazon
E.Korngold, Sy. in F-sharp, Songs, F.W-M / Phil.O, B. Hendricks


available at Amazon
A.Pärt, Sanctuary, F.W-M
/ LPO




(This is the abbreviated version of an article that will appear in the Jan/Feb edition of American Record Guide.)