Melodies abound in Gianandrea Noseda’s fine debut with the Philharmonia Zurich

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn: Narek Haknazaryan (cello), Philharmonia Zurich / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor). Zurich Opera House, 19.1.2010. (JR)

Gianandrea Noseda (c) Steve Sherman

Schubert – Overture, Die Zauberharfe (Rosamunde) D644
Tchaikovsky – Rococo Variations for cello and orchestra Op.33
Mendelssohn – Symphony No.3 Op.56, ‘Scottish’

Anticipation and expectations ran high for this completely full house at the Opera as Gianandrea Noseda stepped forward for his first concert with the Philharmonia Zurich, Zurich Opera’s in-house orchestra. Noseda will take over from Fabio Luisi as General Music Director of the Opera as from the start of the 2021/22 season.

Noseda chose nothing too heavy or technically taxing for his debut concert, three tuneful but energetic works, playing to his strengths. First off, a delightful curtain raiser, the overture by Schubert most know as Rosamunde. What many will not know though is that it actually started life as the overture to a Schubert opera by the name of The Magic Harp. That opera first saw the light of day in Vienna in 1820 but the text was heavily criticised and it vanished seven performances later. Schubert then started to compose another opera, Rosamunde, but the overture was not ready by the date of its first performance, in 1823, so Schubert grabbed the overture to another opera, Alfonso and Estrella. Rosamunde, the opera, was another flop – again chiefly because of its libretto. Schubert then composed a piano version of the score and took the Magic Harp overture as the quasi-overture to his new version of Rosamunde. The work has more than a touch of Rossini about it, with considerable Italian flavour. Noseda relished the work, full of energy and drive, and the orchestra responded to his every gesture, keen to make a good impression on their new boss-to-be.

The orchestra took a back seat for the Tchaikovsky as all eyes and ears were rightly on the soloist, young Armenian cellist Narek Haknazaryan. Only just 30, Haknazaryan won the Gold Medal at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011 and has since played with many major orchestras. From 2014 to 2016, he was a BBC ‘New Generation Artist’. The audience were captivated by his playing, a blend of mellow tone and light touch. He was technically flawless, and his visible charisma (a cheeky grin) added to his appeal. His cello truly sang, appropriately being in the opera house. Noseda took the work at a fast pace, and the orchestra had to scramble to keep up with last variation, an Allegro vivo. The rapturous reception led to an unusual encore, a soulful lament with some attacca passages, an Armenian folk-song (my guess) to which Haknazaryan, eyes closed throughout, chanted – most moving. Haknazaryan’s star has clearly already risen and he will go much further as he expands his repertoire; his is a name to remember even if his name does not yet easily trip off the tongue.

The main work was Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’; Noseda’s vigorous conducting style, a virtual work-out, produced (in addition to a large amount of perspiration and groaning) a huge amount of infectious energy, passion and drive which spurred the orchestra to considerable heights. There was admirable contrast between the lighter, lyrical passages and the dramatic surges. The fast second movement Vivace non troppo had the orchestra very much on its toes. In the slow movement I would have liked more lushness and weight to the strings; this is one area in which the orchestra cannot compete with Zurich’s other orchestra, the Tonhalle. The movement, however, had plenty of swagger and grandeur. The final movement had the whole orchestra joyfully scampering along and in the Maestoso section the horns, one tiny fluff apart, put on a good show.

Microphones were in evidence so one can only hope that some of these fine performances will make their way onto the opera house’s own CD label. (The sound engineer will be pushed to remove Noseda’s groans.) The whole orchestra had worked extremely hard, to excellent effect, and Zurich Opera now looks forward with justified confidence to the dawning of a new age – in a few years’ time – of energetic music-making under Gianandrea Noseda.

John Rhodes

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