Gianandrea Noseda in fine debut with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Dvořák, Ravel, R. Strauss: Bertrand Chamayou (piano), Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Tonhalle Maag, Zurich, 19.12.2019. (JR)

Gianandrea Noseda (c) Steve Sherman

Dvořák The Wild Dove Op.110
Ravel – Piano Concerto in G major
R. StraussAlso Sprach Zarathustra

Gianandrea Noseda will be a regular in Zurich quite soon, but not with the Tonhalle Orchestra; he takes over from Opera Music Director Fabio Luisi from the start of the 2021 season. This was therefore a first chance to hear him in symphonic repertoire with the city’s leading symphony orchestra, rather than the opera’s own Philharmonia Zurich, which will become his local band. The Opera House Management turned out to witness the occasion. I read there is a close friendship between Paavo Järvi, who recently commenced his tenure as Chief Conductor of the Tonhalle, and Noseda, and that a friendly rivalry persists.

Noseda chose to show off his skills in repertoire from different parts of Europe, France, Germany and Czechoslovakia, all with different personal styles, and proved himself a master of them all.

In his later years, Dvořák wrote a number of tone poems, none of which have really entered central repertoire outside the Czech Republic. The better known are The Golden Spinning Wheel, The Noonday Witch and The Water Goblin. The Wild Dove (sometimes known as The Wood Dove) is his fourth orchestral poem. Janáček conducted the première in Brno. The story is taken from a poem by Karl Erben, whom Dvořák greatly admired. The four musical scenes describe the story of a woman who poisons her husband and marries another man shortly afterwards. A dove then sits on the grave of her dead husband and sings a sad song day after day. The wife feels remorse and commits suicide by jumping into a river; she drowns. The music is, of course, highly depictive and Noseda made evident that he does not need costumes and a set to tell a story. Noseda coaxed central European warmth from the players.

We moved swiftly on to Ravel’s well-known and heavily jazz-inflected Piano Concerto in G major. Young French pianist Bernard Chamayou released a double-album of the complete works for solo piano of Ravel, hailed in Gramophone magazine as being ‘revelatory performances of breathtaking beauty’. I will not argue with that. I had a perfect sightline on to the keyboard and could only marvel at Chamayou’s deft finger work and his lightness of touch. Noseda and Chamayou were perfectly attuned. The slow movement displayed playing of ravishing transparency. A very warm reception was rewarded with a gentle Debussy prelude The girl with the flaxen hair, one of those annoying pieces where almost everyone knows the lovely tune but few can recall who wrote it.

You do not need to know or comprehend Nietzsche’s complex ideology to revel in Richard Strauss’s thickly textured tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra. Unfortunately the famous earth-shattering opening fanfare emerging from a growling ground bass had far too many in the audience turn to their neighbour to whisper (or in some cases not whisper): ‘I know that tune, which film was it in?’.  After wallowing in the sound of daybreak and trying to keep images from 2001, A Space Odyssey out of one’s mind for the first bars, and after a few bars of seeming dirge, one soon settles to hearing the complexity of this fine work. The orchestra were on fire, electrified by the dapper conductor. Concertmaster Andreas Janke was on fine form, the harpist excelled. Philippe Litzler’s contributions in all three works were notable.

Those used to ‘bigger’ orchestras might have yearned for even more power and more lushness; we might have wished for a larger hall for the fortissimi to make more impact; and in the temporary hall we had to make do with an electronically enhanced organ (the speaker was the size of a meteorite), but this is Christmas time, a reminder we cannot have everything we wish for.

Nevertheless, a very fine debut for Gianandrea Noseda, who will soon be a Zurich regular, even if on another stage. (Noseda will conduct Philharmonia Zurich at the Zurich Opera on January 19th, 2020, in works by Mendelssohn, Schubert and Tchaikovsky).

John Rhodes

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