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Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Sterling Bruckner

available at Amazon
Mendelssohn, Violin Concerto, J. Jansen, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, R. Chailly
(Decca, 2007)

available at Amazon
Bruckner, Symphony No. 7, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, H. Blomstedt
(Forte, 2007)
The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, founded in 1781, is one of the oldest orchestras in the world. The band that Felix Mendelssohn once led is a regular visitor to the area, last invited by Washington Performing Arts Society way back in 2004. Since conductor Riccardo Chailly took the reins, they have been in the area only once, in Fairfax in 2007, and did not make a stop in the American capital city on their 2010 tour. No matter when they appear, as they did again on Wednesday night, presented by Washington Performing Arts in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, you can be sure that Ionarts will be there, even if the rest of Washington did not have the good sense to fill the hall.

Nikolaj Znaider returned, too, with the Mendelssohn violin concerto for this performance, the piece that he also played on the 2010 tour. The violinist has been a regular guest of the National Symphony Orchestra in recent years, playing the Elgar concerto in 2010, Beethoven in 2007, Bruch in 2005, but this was our first chance to hear him play the Mendelssohn live. He took savagely fast tempi in the outer movements, investing this over-familiar work with some needed sizzle, but with enough poise to give those high E-string flautando notes exceptional accuracy and freedom, with a real showman's touch. Chailly led the musicians in a rhythmically flexible and dynamically sensitive accompaniment, with mahogany-smooth string sound and mellow woodwinds. The second movement was not too slow, with impeccable double-stop technique from Znaider and absolutely whispered pianissimo playing from the orchestra. Znaider's off-string playing in the third movement was also right on the money, fast as a flash but without ever feeling rushed or discombobulated.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Gewandhaus Orchestra does German canon justice at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, November 6)

Tim Smith, A trip through music history with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig (Baltimore Sun, November 6)

Marcus Karl Moroney, Majestic, Magnificent Mendelssohn from the Source (ConcertoNet, November 4)
We have been hearing a lot of Bruckner's seventh symphony (E major, WAB 107) in the last few years -- the Philadelphia Orchestra and the NSO most recently -- but you will hear no complaints from me. Chailley kept the cymbal crash in the slow movement, even though to bring two percussionists (percussion and triangle) on the tour just for that one climactic moment was an extravagance -- and one that I admire. The first movement began almost imperceptibly, the molten cello theme appearing slowly, first shadowed by elegant horn solo. Chailley's tempo was expansive, with lots of room to stretch the tempo, and the pedal point-anchored crescendos and solid brass sounds, especially from the Wagner tubas, as in the triumphant conclusion of the first movement, were even outdone by the shimmering soft accompaniment given by the musicians to the delicate flute solos. In the second movement, the violin sound on the G string was forceful and intense, and the scherzo was suitably fast and implacable in pacing, the one moment of rapid energy in a long and sustained musical form, with a more relaxed and luscious-toned trio. Chailley's sure hand over the arc of this piece meant that after that almost obsessive scherzo, the finale fell into place with intensity and focused energy, making for an experience to be cherished.

The next visiting ensemble will be Anne-Sophie Mutter and her Mutter Virtuosi (November 23), for which we will back in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, a program that includes a new piece by Sebastian Currier.

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