H. Vieuxtemps, Cello Concertos, A. Gerhardt, Royal Flemish Philharmonic, J. Caballé-Domenech (Hyperion, 2015)
U. Chin, Cello Concerto, A. Gerhardt, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, M.-W. Chung (DG, 2014)
Sibelius's final symphony, last heard from the National Symphony Orchestra in 2013 (although they played it better under Vladimir Ashkenazy in 2008), is in some ways more like a tone poem than a symphony, with themes that are transformed slowly over time, a sort of exercise in nostalgia and remembering. König spoke with enthusiasm about the piece, as if he had to defend it, and he elicited a strong performance from the musicians, especially in the undulating opening slow section, churning with molten but hidden heat. The faster parts did not perhaps quite hold together across the ensemble as they should, but that calming trombone theme, which Sibelius at one point marked with the name of his wife ("Aino"), was given room to soar, especially effective at the ecstatic build-up to its last appearances. If you have ever used the Sibelius music notation software, that program used to open with a little swirling bit of music, which comes from the first minutes of this symphony, always bringing a smile to my face when I hear the piece performed live.
Beethoven's fifth symphony requires a special interpretation to stand out, something unexpected like that heard from Mario Venzago in 2011. König's ideas were forceful, seemingly influenced by historically informed performance practice, so that the whole symphony was taken at no-nonsense tempi with crisp articulations and little distortion of the pace, even in the slow movement. As in the Sibelius, this created some ensemble tensions and lack of cohesion in the faster spots, in particular in the third and fourth movements, which König elided together with almost no modification of the tempo, taking his lead from Beethoven's ingenious blending of the scherzo and finale. When the scherzo returns later, there was almost the impression of the orchestra remarking, "Oh, yeah, we forgot to finish the scherzo!" As compelling as it was in some ways, the tempo demands in the finale had breathless results, and more than one musician could be seen shaking his or head about the unrelenting speed König imposed.
Tim Smith, A well-structured program from BSO, Konig, Gerhardt (Baltimore Sun, June 6)
Ionarts extends thanks to the professionals who are stepping down from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, recognized at this concert: librarian Mary Plaine, principal clarinetist Steven Barta and assistant principal clarinetist Christopher Wolfe, and cellist Paula Skolnik-Childress. Critics are paid to gripe, but the devotion of these talented people to the folly that is classical music receives only our admiration.