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Eschenbach's Report Card

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See my review of the National Symphony Orchestra's Mozart and Mahler program published at DCist today:

DCist Goes to the Symphony: NSO's Bright Future (DCist, October 16):

After three programs to open the season, the Christoph Eschenbach era at the National Symphony Orchestra is off to an excellent start. Like last week's concert and, to a lesser degree the first week before that, in this weekend's concert, heard last night, the NSO players sounded unified, energized, well rehearsed and brimming with confidence. Eschenbach's choice of music was also, once again, engaging, as was the interpretative expertise behind it, showing the advantage of a veteran pair of hands. Eschenbach will not return to the podium of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall until January 22 (he will spend part of the fall in Paris, conducting a production of Hindemith's opera Mathis der Maler), so tonight's final performance of this concert of Mozart and Mahler is your last chance to hear Eschenbach at work this year.

The cancellation of remarkable mezzo-soprano Nathalie Stutzmann robbed us of a much anticipated all-Mahler program. Eschenbach chose to replace her set of Mahler songs with a Mozart symphony, but not one of the expected ones: like the Bruckner sixth symphony heard last week, the NSO last played Mozart's Symphony No. 34 (C major, K. 338) in the 1980s. It is a bubbly work, especially in the light-hearted outer movements, and Eschenbach left it mostly unaltered by rubato but with a clear and dancing beat. The ensemble was fairly large for Mozart -- one supposes because the players were already contracted for Mahler, cancellation or no -- but larger orchestras were certainly known in Mozart's time. Even with that many musicians on the stage, the pianissimo passages were deliciously soft and contained, especially in the mostly-strings slow movement. Although this was not really a historically-informed performance approach, the influence of that movement was felt in the crisp articulation and fleet tempi, especially in the rather madcap final movement. [Continue reading]
National Symphony Orchestra
Mozart, Symphony No. 34 | Mahler, Symphony No. 5
With Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

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Robert Valente said...

Nice review. I was at Thursday night's performance, and I note that Thursday night audiences in Washington are much better behaved than the Friday night crowd.

Do you have any more information on Ms. Stutzman's cancellation? It was very disappointing that she didn't make it (visa problems?) and that neither another mezzo nor baritone could be located to fill in and maintain the all-Mahler program.

Looking forward to the rest of the Eschenbach era. At the Circles reception Thursday, I asked the Maestro why he chose the Mahler piece - rather than a dissertation on program length and musician resources he answered simply "because I like it" - with a big smile on his face. It was a splendid answer.

Charles T. Downey said...

I like Eschenbach's answer, too. Thanks for sharing it.

In Anne Midgette's review, which I read after I finished mine, she said that Stutzmann canceled because of visa issues. I have a feeling that Eschenbach would respond in a similar way about finding a replacement, that he liked Stutzmann for the piece.

jfl said...

"Mr. Eschenbach ... delivered the worst Mahler 5 in the history of the work's performance (aside, perhaps, from the premier); certainly the worst performance of Mahler anything I have ever heard. Lumpy, distorted almost beyond recognition at points, very sloppily played by an orchestra that (whatever the PR folks say) did not look remotely happy with their situation."

Anyone pick up any of that sentiment?