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Ionarts-at-Large: Gatti & GMYO in Dresden

Daniele Gatti and the Mahler Youth Orchestra stopped by in Dresden’s Semperoper with their Wagner-Berg-Strauss-Ravel program, the morning after Christian Thielemann had conducted his inauguration concert with the Staatskapelle. It was a fitting concert to cap a trip through Saxony—‘on the paths of Wagner’—I had been on. In fact it was the first Wagner I heard after traipsing through the south-east German countryside, from plaque to plaque: “Here lies Wagner’s great-great-great Grandfather” – “Here Wagner’s first wife was baptized” – “Here Wagner spent a night at his sister’s fleeing from the officials” – “Here Wagner failed middle-school for the second time” – “Here Wagner stayed in a bed that might have looked like this and wrote Lohengrin”. And then, at last, the Third Act Prelude & Good Friday Music from Parsifal: Echt Wagner and in sumptuous, broad sound, quite unbelievable for 11AM (perhaps the awakening-theme of the music helped), and a sound that a glorified pick-up youth orchestra like the GMYO—for all their many considerable qualities—usually doesn’t produce.

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A.Berg, Violin Concerto et al.,
F.P.Zimmermann, Stuttgart RSO, G.Gelmetti et al.

Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto with soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann turned out alert, detailed, clearly delineated, but with feeling and oodles of romance and furthered by the superb acoustic in the Semperoper—in this case the 2nd rank, preferable to the sound from orchestra seating to these ears. Zimmermann played the first movement with matter-of-courseness, without pathos, with an airy grace, a good-humoredness, a respectful but never reverent take on the memory of an angel, ending in a waltz through tears. Grit and determination and Bach (the chorale “Es ist genug” from O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, most prominently heard in the clarinets, but laced throughout the music) dominated the second movement… which after this summer in Salzburg reminded me invariably of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s works.

Richard Strauss’ Rosenkavalier Suite is not a great work itself, but it’s a medley and jumble of great music; a potpourri of romantic musical scents. Gatti and the GMYO drove through the music like a fire truck with sirens on, with excited violin figures and brass swirls, and finally happily frolicking like a drunken Mariachi band. It would have been a great end to the matinee, but Ravel’s La Valse was still outstanding, and happily it actually was outstanding. Rather than taking from the previous impression, it added with its oodles of character and liberal wit and hearty portamenti. During the introduction the orchestral voices popped up through hatches and holes of the double-bass’ “Jaws” floor that darkly lapped against the woodwinds above. Gatti, at his best, has the ability to make pieces that might have become boring from overexposure in routine run-throughs, exciting again. That is exactly what he did here.

Picture of Daniele Gatti © Silvia Lelli