Chailly and Gewandhaus Orchestra Display Adroitness of Touch
Dresden Music Festival 2014
Mozart, Brahms, Richard Strauss: Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Riccardo Chailly, Semperoper, Dresden, 9.6.2014 (MC)
Mozart: Overture Idomeneo
Brahms: Serenade No.2
Richard Strauss: Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration)
Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks)
Riccardo Chailly certainly knows how to plan a concert programme. I interviewed the Milanese Maestro the day following the concert and it was clear how judiciously he selects his repertoire. For this packed morning concert, on Whit Monday a German public holiday, at the Semperoper, Dresden he chose the delightful Mozart overture Idomeneo to open the programme followed by a Brahms jewel, if a rather neglected one, the Serenade No. 2. Comprising the second half were two sumptuous Richard Strauss masterworks Death and Transfiguration and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, especially apt just two days before the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
A product of the twenty-five year old Mozart the opera Idomeneo was introduced by the composer himself in Munich at the Cuvilliés Theatre. It would be hard to imagine a greater sense of joie de vivre given to this buoyant performance of the Idomeneo overture by Maestro Chailly and his Gewandhausorchester.
Brahms dedicated his five movement Serenade No. 2 in A to Clara Schumann and conducted the première in Hamburg. With its rather unusual chamber orchestra scoring Brahms omitted violins, trumpets, trombones and percussion but did include double woodwind and horns. Chailly drew exquisite playing from the Gewandhausorchester enlivening the pulse and captivating the heart. I loved the bucolic character of the Adagio containing an enchanting short passage for the low strings. It’s hard to imagine the Second Serenade having finer advocacy than this performance from the Gewandhausorchester.
Richard Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) is based on a poem by Alexander Ritter concerned with the subject of death, which Strauss had requested. The music creatively portrays the dying artist lying in his bed with his past life appearing before him and then the soul leaving the body to achieve everlasting life. Right from the opening of the score with flutes and oboe playing over a pillow of gently breathing strings I found it extraordinary how Maestro Chailly managed to get under the skin of Strauss’s score engaging exemplary tempi and sympathetic judgment of the various episodes. Communicated with such intense passion the celebrated concluding section that surrounds the transfiguration highlighted Strauss at his most disarmingly generous.
To close the concert was the Strauss tone poem Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s merry pranks) after an old picaresque legend in rondo form for large orchestra. Strauss’s mischievous prankster Till Eulenspiegel is a character from fourteenth century traditional German folk legends. This delightful score is full of light-hearted mischief with Chailly directing a convincing depiction of the likable rascal. The near-sardonic waltz felt so light on its feet and the impish melody on the horn was strikingly played with delight and relish. I greatly admired the sense of sorrow and near-tragedy in the closing section followed immediately by the abrupt resurrection of the roguish Till who in the final bars humorously cannot resist cocking a snook at authority.
The stunning playing of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig contained a remarkable adroitness of touch for a large orchestra which Maestro Chailly never allowed to sound inflated. Certainly this was one of the most satisfying orchestral concerts I have heard for many years.