There was some great programming going on, on part of the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra with Cornelius Meister, last Thursday at the Wiener Konzerthaus. One way you could tell: The place was half empty. Why bother indeed: Only a world premiere by the enigmatic proto-Mahlerian Hans Rott, the Austrian premiere of Jörg Widman’s Violin Concerto with Christian Tetzlaff, and a rarely heard great symphony—Martinů’s Third—to cap it off. If this kind of concert can’t be communicated in such a way to draw a good crowd, there are perhaps dark times ahead for classical music, or classical music marketing… or most likely both. But let’s enjoy it while it lasts, on the willing taxpayer’s expense:
Hans Rott’s Hamlet Overture aims grandly at Shakespeare and succeeds on its own terms—something that Rott himself may not have believed, because he gave up composition after finishing the full sketch and a few pages of orchestration. We can hear for ourselves now, because the 18-year old composer’s work has had its (apparently often cryptic) instructions for instrumentation in the unfinished score turned into a performing version by Johannes Volker Schmidt, which helped it to its world premiere now, 130 years after Hans Rott’s death.
Belated World Premiere
H.Rott, Symphony in E, Orchestral Suite,
P.Järvi / Frankfurt RSO
Onward from highlight to highlight: Jörg Widman’s Violin Concerto is a lyrical tour-de-force in which the violinist—Christian Tetzlaff, who has performed the world premiere in 2007 in Essen and made the recording of it—doesn’t take the bow of the strings for 30 minutes. (Which is why he needs a page turner—perhaps a novelty in the genre.) You can hear the will to make contemporary violin concerto with every chance to enter the repertoire. You enjoy the success of it.
Out of a world filled with the sounds of Mahler (large chords reminiscent of those ‘gate post 9-tone chords’ in the Adagio of his Tenth) and Alban Berg, Widmann created a work so consonant, so appealing, so much heart over brain, that I wonder if his sister Carolin—a modernist of the first water (though also a supreme Schumann interpreter)—might not have initially, instinctively cringed. Actually, I am rather sure she wouldn’t have, because it’s not her style. But you might know what I mean. Widmann’s Violin Concerto fits into the line of fine modern violin concerto that include the above mentioned Berg, Sibelius, Britten, Weinberg, Shostakovich, Schoeck, Bartók, and Martinů.
Electrocution, not Hammers
J.Widmann, Violin Concerto et al.,
C.Tetzlaff / D.Harding / Swedish RSO
Tetzlaff so threw himself into the performance, played so electrifyingly, that nary a listener wasn’t caught up completely by the work. (Something that can be said about the slightly more timid-sounding recording only with—albeit mild—reservations.) The performance was, almost shockingly, the Austrian premiere of the work. Tetzaff beautifully phrased the opening cadenza in dark, viola-esque hues.
Martinů’s Symphonic Bird’s Eye View
B.Martinů, Symphonies 1-6,
V.Válek / Prague RSO
Capping a truly terrific program, Meister and the ORF RSO performed said Third Symphony with panache, nicely articulating the internationalist stylelessness of Martinů’s French-American-Czech-and-none-of-the-above idiom. (It is uniquely Martinů; but if a composer absolutely needs to be drawn in for comparison, it might be Carl Nielsen and his symphonies.) The work really has all the makings of an audience (if-only-they-show-up) pleaser. The highlight-filled first movement—full of swinging rhythmic complexity—ends with a terrific bang, there’s a strong, timpani-motored lyrical surge in the middle movement, and the colorfully wily finale rouses even the drowsiest patrons. And it’s no longer than a late Haydn Symphony.