Luisi Confirms Impeccable Bruckner Credentials

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Dvořák and Bruckner: Philharmonia Zurich / Fabio Luisi (conductor), Jan Vogler (cello), Zurich Opera House, 12.11.2017. (JR)

Dvořák – Cello Concerto op.104

Bruckner – Symphony No.4 (‘Romantic’)

The second orchestral concert this season by the opera house orchestra (Philharmonia Zurich) featured a popular cello concerto with a top cellist, followed by one of Bruckner’s greatest symphonies, his Fourth. The house was virtually sold out.

I was able to compare and contrast Truls Mørk’s performance of the same concerto only a few weeks ago with the Czech Philharmonic, with Jan Vogler’s. Mørk was more delicate, crisper, leaner and – it has to be said – tidier. Even though Vogler is a pupil of Heinrich Schiff, his reading was more passionate and muscular than I expected, and this led to the odd lapse of intonation. Nevertheless he was mesmerizing throughout. It helped Vogler that he was playing in the warm constrained acoustics of the opera house, sitting virtually in the middle of the stalls (above the pit); Mørk had to contend with the new and rather drier acoustics of the Tonhalle Maag. Luisi proved the ideal accompanist, keeping almost perfect dynamic balance throughout, especially in the slow movement. The orchestra’s leader, Bartlomiej Niziol, contributed with finesse. Brahms admired the concerto greatly and said he wished he had written it. The audience admired it greatly, too, and we were rewarded with a restrained and calming Bach Sarabande, in C major. Pity about Vogler’s frilly black shirt and partly sequined jacket, the latter with more than a hint of Liberace.

Luisi gave us Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony two years ago, which I admired greatly, and now proved his credentials with this gripping reading of the powerful Fourth. For version addicts: the version Luisi selected was the 1878/1880 version, so the second revision of 1878 with the 1880 (third) revision of the Finale, as was given at the work’s première.

Meticulous rehearsal was evident throughout Luisi’s reading of the symphony. The acoustics however, so nigh perfect for the Dvořák, proved an obstacle in such a loud work. The opera house is no shoe-box concert hall, but more of a bejewelled hat-box. Fortissimos become something of an assault and the sound can be congested. Pianissimi were beautifully controlled, as at the opening of the symphony. It has to be said that one was constantly aware that we were not listening to a fully-fledged symphony orchestra; principal positions are very well filled but the back desks of the strings lack volume and richness of tone. When the brass played, I crossed my fingers – there were too many sloppy fluffs causing the woodwind to grimace (something they can do with impunity in the pit but not on stage).

The strings impressed with their pizzicato sections, the woodwind with their birdcalls. The percussionist gave her all, was rhythmic and bold, though a little too far back on the stage for my liking. Luisi was indefatigable; he is a wisp of a man but has the energy of a fireball. His command of the score was most impressive, although I would quibble with the slightly slow speeds he adopted in parts of the Finale. Nonetheless, Luisi brought this magnificent work to a glorious close. I have little doubt (and do hope) we will be hearing more Bruckner from him in coming seasons.

John Rhodes

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