Lucerne Festival (3): Concertgebouw and Harding Fail to Convince in Bruckner’s Tricky Fifth

28/08/2015

 Lucerne Festival   Mozart, Bruckner    Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano), Daniel Harding (conductor) Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Lucerne (KKL)  27.8.2015 (JR)

Mozart:          Piano Concerto No. 18 (K.456)
Bruckner:      Symphony No. 5

I had hoped that the Lucerne Festival and visiting orchestras might have turned their attention to Sibelius and Nielsen this year, the year of the 150th anniversary of their birth, but instead we are being treated to the usual surfeit of nowadays staple Bruckner, Mahler and Shostakovich – but I am not really complaining. Their symphonies are often selected to bring in the audiences and to show off the qualities of an orchestra. In the case however of Bruckner’s rather tricky Fifth symphony, orchestra management clearly feared a less than full house and threw in a Mozart piano concerto for safety.

Apart from the fact that both composers were Austrian and spent time in Vienna, there is no connection between Bruckner and Mozart; their music is diametrically opposed.

Mozart’s concerto K.456 is middle-period Mozart, so no trumpets and drums.  That can make the concerto seem under-powered, and that is exactly how it came across. The first movement, after an ever so slightly stormy opening, proceeds like chamber music with frequent interplay of instruments and a piano solo that is delicate. That suits Bezuidenhout’s playing style which is intimate: he is no tub thumper, happy in the baroque and classical eras. At various times in the concerto, I could – from my seat in the rear stalls – see his hands move, but perplexingly could not actually hear the piano!  The concerto was written for a blind pianist and is not particularly challenging technically.

The slow movement is more intimate still; Harding tried to breathe some life into the music but could not succeed. Only the effervescent Finale brought the music to life and sped to a cheery ending, but almost too late to save the day. The horns had a troubled time with frequent smudges; otherwise, the orchestra made little impact and Harding added little. The performance received polite applause. Bezuidenhout gave us a Bach encore (unusually, using a score) as a sop.

Bruckner’s Fifth symphony is not always approachable. Bruckner lovers (and I count myself as one of those) approach it with a slight degree of trepidation, non-Bruckner lovers or the musical incognoscenti are hardly ever won over by what it has to offer. The opening movement is incoherent and even crude in part; it takes quite a while for the movement to build dramatically. Apart from Thielemann (whose Sixth I look forward to hearing with the Dresden Staatskapelle in two weeks’ time), all the best Bruckner conductors I can think of are or have been older men – and my list is long. Harding’s task was to maintain the audience’s concentration throughout the symphony and display’s the work’s structure. I don’t feel he succeeded in either of those aims.

The concert was being broadcast live on Swiss radio. In the first movement audience and orchestra concentration was not aided by a microphone wire snapping, causing everyone to look up, anxiously, as microphones swayed.

In the introvert Adagio volume was kept low to accentuate the brass outbursts which came over as thrilling. The strings were burnished in tone in their long lyrical passages. Harding simply let the music unfold.

The performance improved as it went along. There was a spring in the step during the outer parts of the Scherzo and the Concertgebouw displayed a deft charm in the central Ländler section.

The final movement is certainly the most satisfactory and the most approachable. The onset of Bruckner’s mature period can be sensed. Harding kept control of the contrapuntal sections, rhythm never slackened, strings were robust and the final pages thrilled with their blazing brass chorales, evoking the organ, “the king of instruments” of which Bruckner was a master. Harding brought out a few passages I had not heard revealed before but the orchestra, surprisingly, no strangers to Bruckner, were a mite too untidy to make this a great performance.

Harding is virtually unknown to Swiss audiences and his somewhat restrained British gestures fail to give him much gravitas or charisma on the podium. He has a low profile in public. I got the feeling the orchestra was in limbo, perhaps now waiting for Daniele Gatti’s arrival as Principal Conductor in the 2016 season. Mariss Jansons has already taken the status of Conductor Emeritus. Harding will now become Principal Conductor at the Orchestre de Paris.

John Rhodes

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella __________________________________
  • NEW! Pop-Up Opera’s 2018 Mozart Double Bill __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) 2018 Celebrates its Eighth Year __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Chess at the London Coliseum from 26 April for 5 Weeks __________________________________
  • NEW! The Three Choirs Festival 2018: A Preview __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Season at the Royal Opera House __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018 Cheltenham Music Festival – 30 June to 15 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Staatsoper Unter de Linden in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! St Petersburg Ballet Theatre Bring Swan Lake to London in August __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces its 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Booking Open for Longborough Festival Opera 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Additional Tickets Now Available for Nevill Holt Opera’s Le nozze di Figaro __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Four-Day Celebration of Art Song in April 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere by Novaya Opera of Pushkin – The Opera in the Theatre in the Woods __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Massenet’s Thaïs at the Cadogan Hall on 23 June __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli Sings for Chelsea Pensioners, at Cadogan Hall, and Signs for Sony/ATV __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • NEW! A First Charity Classical Music Concert at Finchcocks on 27 May __________________________________
  • NEW! MICHAEL SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Trinity Laban Moves to Abolish All-Male Composer Concerts __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella in Cinemas on 15 May with Live Q&A __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR LAURENCE EQUILBEY IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! Newly Discovered Song by Alma Mahler to be Performed in Oxford and Newbury __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H