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Ionarts-at-Large: The Vienna Symphony Orchestra's Little New Year’s Concert

available at Amazon
F.Schubert, Orchestrated Songs,
C.Abbado / COE / A.S.von Otter, T.Quasthoff

available at Amazon
F.Schubert, Orchestrated Songs,
W.A.Albert / NDR RP Hannover/ C.Nylund, K.Mertens

So long as the Vienna Symphony Orchestra’s spring concert takes place in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, it should be possible (if not easy) to sell the place well (if not out). There’s some amount of glitz, television is there, the fare is easily digestible stuff (usually a potpourri; this year it was musically a good deal more ambitious and immediately a tougher sell), there’s little else of quality going on in Vienna at the time, the weather begins to get better but isn’t too great, and if all goes to hell, you can always pick tourists by neck and toss them into the Musikverein because they’re happy just to be inside the famous place.

It was an all-Schubert affair in 2015, with Philippe Jordan himself leading the VSO, and Matthias Goerne taking on song-duties for the orchestrated Schubert-fare. It started out with the D-major Overture D.556, which was a fine-enough warmup, followed by the Rosamunde Ballet Music No.2 (D.797), which came across as heavy-handed, dull, and not as dancy as would be necessary to salvage what’s arguably is second-rate Schubert.

Enter Baloo, the dancing and singing Schubert-bear, Matthias Goerne in person: barrely-chested and lovely and none-too-urbane in “An Sylvia” (in an orchestration of Alexander Schmalcz, world premiered on this occasion as would be three other orchestrations of his that followed). With a melancholic touch, Goerne was Winterreise-like in in “Des Fischers Liebesglück” (Schmalcz) where the solo-flute did well and the solo-viola absolutely, deliciously excelled. Then “Alinde” (Schmalcz), and then “Erlkönig” which had attracted the orchestrating zeal of Max Reger back when, as it seems absolutely made for the orchestral treatment; Goerne did its drama proud.

Then came Symphony No.3, Part 1–as the symphony was split into parts and spliced into the Spring Concert: An unusual approach, but not without interest… and probably more authentic than the “scores-are-sacrosanct-and-don’t-dare-do-anything-but-cough-between-movements” approaches. Especially the Adagio maestoso part of it was slow, not very eventful, good and short, and could have slower still. After the break the second and third movement followed with deliberate delicacy, still on the slow side…. perhaps precisely because the movements were taken more or less singularly. Then more songs (“Tränenregen” from Die Schöne Müllerin, “Abendstern”, and “An die Musik”), the Entr'acte from Rosamunde which was happily unmemorable, and then the finale of the symphony finally with the zip and pizazz that makes early Schubert take off. After the warm applause Goerne rolled out of the wings for a notable encore, which did its part to engender a sense of occasion: Schubert’s Trout, which was particularly charming for the clarinet melodies that bubbled fish-like to the surface. Promising for next year’s VSO Spring Concert, then, in the Konzerthaus and hopefully with the same level of increased musical value. 

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