Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic Stylishly Commemorate Herbert von Karajan

20/08/2014

   Salzburg Festival (4) – Schubert and Bruckner:Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Riccardo Muti (conductor). Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 15.8.2014 (MB)

Schubert – Symphony no.4 in C minor, D.417, ‘Tragic’
Bruckner – Symphony no.6 in A major

 

A disturbing feature of recent years has been the distinctly mixed quality of performances heard from the Vienna Philharmonic; I am therefore delighted to report that, this year at Salzburg, such lapses would appear to have been put behind the orchestra, in repertoire ranging from Mozart to Strauss. The VPO has always, in my experience, played very well for Riccardo Muti, and this concert, dedicated to the memory of Herbert von Karajan, who had died twenty-five years earlier, proved no exception.

Schubert’s Fourth Symphony is not heard so often in concert halls. Although, like other early Schubert symphonies, it sometimes exhibits a certain stiffness of form, it is difficult really to understand why. I should certainly rather hear it than a good number of other Fourth Symphonies, Bruckner’s included. The introduction to the first movement opened with an expectancy seemingly echoing The Creation’s ‘Representation of Chaos’, albeit with woodwind lines that could only be Schubert’s. There was more than a hint of Beethoven too, likewise in the exposition proper, in which Muti finely balanced grace and formal dynamism. String turns of phrase again marked out the composer – and indeed the orchestra – unmistakeably, whatever the undoubted examples of influence from others. The extent to which the VPO has Schubert in its blood was underlined by the number of occasions on which Muti was able to stand back and let it play, intervening only to point a certain phrase or to coax a certain strand of development. The tricky opening to the slow movement was perhaps slightly diffident, but that seemed intentional rather than by default. There were gorgeous woodwind solos to enjoy thereafter – and such warmth from the Viennese strings. Beautifully melancholic, the movement was ideally paced as an Andante; its length was certainly ‘heavenly’. An exuberant reading of the Minuet followed, sounding very much ‘after’ Haydn, though the syncopations and the places they led were equally very much Schubert’s own. The trio was, rightly, more Mozartian in spirit, evoking the air of a Salzburg serenade, and relaxed to just the right degree. There was an excellent sense in the finale of Schubert’s Rossinian side, an influence that yet permits the composer to penetrate far deeper than ever Rossini would have been able – or cared – to do. Mendelssohn also came to mind at times in a fleet yet never superficial reading, lovingly, seemingly effortlessly played. No other orchestra can play quite like this.

Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony, despite its Schubertian resonances, is a very different work – and is, frankly, a symphony with which I continue to struggle. I know that many others feel similarly, but am equally well aware that, for others whose judgement I greatly respect, this stands as a masterpiece. The ‘Bruckner problem’ refuses to go away, then, and what I have to say should be taken in the spirit of my personal experience, both of work and experience. (In a sense, that is always the case, but I thought it perhaps worth underlining here.) The first movement I can follow – and, in this performance, did. Again, it opened with great expectancy. The VPO’s tone was different: pellucid, almost as if for late Karajan, or indeed Boulez, in late Bruckner (with which I certainly do not experience such difficulties). The sound, though, developed into something greater for those terrifying unisons. Rhythmic precision was crucial to Muti’s delineation of the composer’s formal processes. This was, perhaps, ‘objective’ Bruckner, certainly not the Bruckner of, say, Eugen Jochum, but was none the worse for it, especially in this movement. Woodwind ‘moments’ evoked Wagner, Siegfried in particular, but the counterpoint was unmistakeably Bruckner’s. The apparent twilight of liminal zones was particularly captivating – and intriguing. The Adagio had a warmer, more rounded tone – yes, sehr feierlich, as Bruckner marks it. It progressed with a serenity that at times tended towards the seraphic, yet which did not long go unsullied by darker undercurrents. However, I could not claim that I really followed where it went and why, Bruckner’s byways remaining a mystery to me. The scherzo was again rather Wagnerian in sonority, if hardly in form. I am afraid that, whatever the excellence of the playing, those repetitions remained – well, repetitions. And the finale was much the same. Again, I could relish the Wagner echoes and the fine playing, but formal development often eluded me. I was given no reason to doubt the guide(s); the problem, for me, lay with the obscurity of the path itself.

Mark Berry

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Looking Ahead to the 2019 Lucerne Festivals __________________________________
  • NEW! Sándor Végh Memorial Concerts 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Perform Amahl and the Night Visitors in December __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Sundays for a Fiver Festival in November __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre Reopens in December 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! See Pop-Up Opera’s La Tragédie de Carmen this Autumn __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! The OAE Shakes Up Concert Hall Conventions as Players and Conductors Talk from Stage __________________________________
  • NEW! SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST ANGELA HEWITT IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • R.I.P. Montserrat Caballé (1933 – 2018): A Personal Tribute by Jack Buckley __________________________________
  • NEW! The Future of Opera is Theatre: An Essay by Casey Creel __________________________________
  • NEW! Jacqui and David Morris’s New Documentary Film Nureyev Celebrates a Unique Man and Dancer __________________________________
  • NEW! MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! JACK BUCKLEY’S MEMORIES OF LINDSAY KEMP (1938-2018) __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GESUALDO SIX IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR ALEXANDER SLADKOVSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month