The Cleveland Orchestra fills Carnegie Hall with the sounds of Vienna

05/10/2019

Nicolai, Beethoven, Strauss: Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), Lynn Harrell (cello), Yefim Bronfman (piano), Cleveland Orchestra / Franz Welser-Möst (conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York, 3.10.2019. (RP)

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin),Yefim Bronfman (piano), Lynn Harrell (cello)
& Franz Welser-Möst (conductor) with the Cleveland Orchestra © Chris Lee

Nicolai – Overture to Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor

Beethoven – Romance for Violin & Orchestra No.1 in G major Op.40; Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano in C major Op.56

Strauss – Suite from Der Rosenkavalier Op.59 (arr. Robert Mandell)

Carnegie Hall launched its 129th season with a gala concert by the Cleveland Orchestra under the baton of music director Franz Welser-Möst. His association with the orchestra dates to 2002 and has just been extended until 2027, which will make his tenure one year longer than that of legendary conductor George Szell. During a twenty-four-year reign as music director, Szell built the Cleveland Orchestra into one of the world’s finest symphonic instruments. It is a reputation that Welser-Möst has burnished and of which he is justifiably proud: ‘I am theirs and they are mine. I belong to this orchestra. We have become part of each other’s identity’.

For this glittery occasion, the Austrian-born Welser-Möst programmed music from Vienna. Clearly, the orchestra’s residencies at the Musikverein in Vienna have steeped its players in the lighter, frothy Viennese style. However, it was the music of Beethoven, who moved to Vienna at the age of seventeen and lived there for over thirty-five years until his death in 1827, that was at the heart of this concert.

Following a spirited account of the Overture to Otto Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, noteworthy for the warm sound of viola and cello, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter was the soloist in Beethoven’s Romance for Violin & Orchestra in G major. This is early Beethoven with none of the grand heroism that would come later. Mutter beguiled with her exquisite, singing tone as she caressed the Romance’s melodies, especially the final refrain of the rondo in which the violin soars into its high register. The work is not a flashy showpiece for the soloist, but Mutter dazzled nonetheless with her artistry as well as some deftly executed double stops.

Mutter was joined on stage by cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Yefim Bronfman for Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. There was nostalgia in the air at the sight of Harrell on stage with the orchestra, which he joined in 1962 and served as principal cellist from 1964 to 1971. His presence was a loving nod to the orchestra’s rich heritage, as Szell had hired Harrell when he was only eighteen. At seventy-five, the cellist’s technique is still formidable, and his communicative powers are undimmed. He and Mutter engaged in bravura exchanges of virtuosity, but it was in the slow middle movement where the elegance and beauty of Harrell’s playing was on full display. The piano part is not nearly as exposed as those of the violin and cello, but Bronfman made it memorable, playing with his accustomed style and grace.

The concert concluded with a high energy reading of the Der Rosenkavalier Suite, arranged by Robert Mandell, an American conductor who has long made his home in England, to which Welser-Möst added a few finishing touches. The orchestra, released from its more constrained supporting role in the Beethoven, had a field day. For the first time, the Cleveland Orchestra’s brass and woodwinds filled the hall with their glorious sound. There was a wonderful swagger to the more raucous waltzes associated with Baron Ochs, and a soaring lyricism limned the tender ones that accompany the blossoming of love between Octavian and Sophie, while the loveliest of all were the poignant, bittersweet melodies associated with the Marschallin.

For an encore, the orchestra played Johann Strauss II’s Furioso-Polka. It is a work that can spiral out of control, but Welser-Möst kept the romp in check. With cymbal crashes, special effects from the woodwinds and other orchestral flashes of color, the first concert of Carnegie Hall’s 2019-2020 season came to a brilliant conclusion.

On a sadder note, this concert was dedicated to Jessye Norman, who had died a few days earlier. She appeared in Carnegie Hall fifty times, and I was privileged to hear her there and at the Metropolitan Opera and other venues in the US and Europe. It was such a magnificent voice, and I join those who now celebrate her artistry and mourn her passing

Rick Perdian

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