Mikhail Pletnev, Respighi and the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini score at the Dresden Music Festival

GermanyGermany Dresden Music Festival 2023 [10] – 6.9.2023, Kulturpalast, Dresden: Mikhail Pletnev (piano), Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini / Omer Meir Wellber (conductor). (LV)

Omer Meir Wellber conducts the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini © Oliver Killig

Verdi – Overture to I Vespri siciliani
Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No.1, Op.23
Wagner – Overture to Tannhäuser
RespighiMetamorphoson Modi XII, Tema e Variazioni

The Festival’s second concert by the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini under Omer Meir Wellber opened with a performance of Verdi’s overture to I Vespri siciliani that bristled with theatrical anticipation. Everything was colorful to hear, and the orchestra, moving as if they had been choreographed, were beautiful to look at: the way the double bassists strummed their pizzicatos, the comic book fury of the brass and the splendid circus march played with street music abandon in a way that Fellini would have adored.

Mikhail Pletnev plays Tchaikovsky © Oliver Killig

Entering from the wings for the Tchaikovsky, Mikhail Pletnev swept through the orchestra towards the piano, turned to the concertmaster and began playing before completely sitting down. He played imperceptibly at first before the famous chords were rippling through the wonderfully open acoustics of Dresden’s Kulturpalast against the sweetness of the strings, the violins and violas (more than 80 percent of whom are women). Pletnev’s emphasis on unhurried poetry contrasted with the richness he found in the cadenzas and solo riffs; the pacings and moods he achieved felt like the composer himself was present in a profoundly meditative state. Matched at times by gently lyrical woodwinds, Pletnev sat impassively at the keyboard, building his silvery sound over a rich bass. At times, it was more like a symphonic concerto.

In the Andantino semplice Pletnev sat with his arms folded listening to the eloquent flute solo, and then played the tune more consoling than ever over the pianissimo strings. It was also a young man’s Tchaikovsky, the Prestissimo full of freshness and life, and Pletnev shook his head with satisfaction at the end.

The second half opened with a Tannhäuser overture played with open hearts, before Wellber like a wizard had magically sprung the strings’ triplets into music of pure radiance. Wellber then launched a performance of Ottorino Respighi’s obscure Metamorphoseon characterized by an insatiable appetite for sound from both the composer and the conductor. Its innocent opening quickly devolved into a forbidding primeval compost of lush instrumentation, verging at times on Hollywood-type biblical film scores, before blooming into a series of hallucinogenic variations.

Respighi composed Metamorphoseon for the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1929; it was an orchestra he had conducted and whose players he knew well. The theme reached its full brilliance in a cornucopia seventh variation consisting of personally tailored solos for harp, cello, violin, viola, horn, bassoon (almost delirious with the joy of being unleashed) and flute before the strings reduced down to pianissimo for the clarinet, harp and oboe.

It was intense and demanding for the orchestra, but the audience ate it up. Despite the composer’s own misgivings, Metamorphoseon complements the Pines trilogy very effectively.

As would be expected of an orchestra from opera’s heartland, the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini played as their encores the ‘March of the Toreadors’ from Carmen and the Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana.

Laurence Vittes

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