|W.A.Mozart, Piano Concertos 19 & 27,|
Goode / Orpheus
USA | UK | DE | FR
F.Mendelssohn B., Symphonies 3-5,
Dohnanyi / WPh
USA | UK | DE | FR
Mozart: Piano Concerto in B-flat, K595
Mendelssohn: Symphony No.3, “Scottish”
A world premiere performance under Christian Thielemann—and it’s not some thought-to-be-lost Bruckner or Schumann fragment? The controversial maestro, admittedly not the hardest working in the business, gets a bad rap about his limited repertoire seemingly confined to Bruckner, Schumann, Strauss, Pfitzner, Wagner, Brahms, Bruckner, Pfitzner, Bruckner, Strauss, Strauss, Schumann, and occasionally Beethoven. That’s doing injustice to his excellent French touch (when he whips it out on rare occasion) and his incredibly sensitive way with contemporary fare. If (a big if), it is contemporary music that rubs him the right way. Like Henze. Or, as it turns out, Detlev Glanert, who wrote “Insomnium” for the Munich Philharmonic, an Adagio for large orchestra.
Nothing is more daring in classical music than to expose your musical material to immediate comparison. A good deal of ‘new complexity’ in music is little more than cowardice; fear of having to measure up to those that have come before and were endowed with musical talent and a sense for humanity—which must somehow be related to the aesthetic idea of beauty. Glanert is not a coward; he boldly writes for his audiences’ senses.
“Insomnium” is an orchestral work with which Glanert explores the musical language and space to his next opera, “Solaris”. Where-to do the opening gentle phrases lead? Repeatedly, softly, a little melodic part is traded from left to right. Repetitive but always modified… a slowly condensing veil of music emerges—an elongated promise that adds instruments and further colors without necessarily becoming more concrete.
A flurry—several flurries—of string figures become the background as the brass and woodwinds take over the slowly progressing music. There are hints of exoticism; woodwind characters are gawking amid the still waking orchestra—by now we find ourselves amid an enthralling, visceral piece of music with wit and beauty lushly flowing through its veins. Swirling outbreaks of all forces arise and die down before new climaxes. Amid the quiet, just from the reverb of the gong, rises a violin solo, to which viola and cello add their song. The listener is engulfed in a satisfied sensation, an aural indulgence, and flutes appear with reminiscences from elsewhere. Turning the strings—alternating left and right—on and off, as with a switch, “Insomnium” moves, via a deliberate decrescendo, glissandi, and a few last breaths and snippets, towards a suspended ring and the end of a truly uplifting work.
All this was infused with the Strauss-gene of Thielemann, whose way with modern music—at least the kind he accedes to conduct in the first place—is an immediately emotional way that has everything end up sounding like, well, Strauss. Or Pfitzner. (In case there is any doubt: that’s meant as a high compliment, not derision.) At least on the first two nights, all this was well coaxed out of the orchestra.
If this wasn’t the undisputed highlight of the evening, that’s due to Radu Lupu’s genial touch in the last Mozart piano concerto, K 595 in B-flat. Performed with a smallish orchestra, this was liquid, Mozart-is-for-Sundays beauteousness—centered around the unfazed, casual calm of Lupu who was in constant dialogue with the players who smoothly participated in the greater musical scheme. With a touch of extra meat but lacking neither grace nor lightness, this was sunny and successful for not trying to be something else. The Larghetto turned into a Notturno with Lupu; notes were melted from soloist to orchestra and back. The Allegro-Finale reminded more strongly than usual of the Magic Flute.
With a hint of perverse anticipation—eager, hopeful, and cautious—I looked forward to Thielemann’s Mendelssohn. But why? The ‘Scottish’ Symphony—numbered “Three” but in fact the last he completed—is a highly romantic German symphony freely acknowledging the tradition of Beethoven and good enough for Wagner to have liberally copied from for his Dutchman. Surely this is a work that can withstand the, even benefit from, boldly shaping hand of Thielemann, a conductor eminently at home ‘in the moment’, of which there are plenty in op.56. In theory that’s all right; in practice it has yet to be proven.
Carefully stalking phrases, reining them in, and unleashing them in turn, this was Mendelssohn heavy with fingerprints, indulgent smudges, grand, broad, and somewhere between Schumann and Brahms. If the orchestra had been more together, the first violins more careful, and a bit more of a cohesive line had been found, then the result might have sounded less like a work in progress and more like a remarkable—if alternative—approach. As is, it suggested two things: More rehearsal for the ‘Scottish’ and (or) that Thielemann should tackle Mendelssohn’s Second (but actually fourth) Symphony which should lend itself more naturally to his style.