With a mesmerizing fusion of artistry, Schumann and Bruckner opens the Tonhalle Orchestra’s new season

SwitzerlandSwitzerland R. Schumann, Bruckner: Kian Soltani (cello), Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich / Paavo Järvi (conductor). Tonhalle, Zurich, 13.9.2023. (VL)

Paavo Järvi conducts cellist Kian Soltani and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich © Gaetan Bally

R. Schumann – Cello Concerto in A minor Op.129
Bruckner – Symphony No.9 D minor WAB 109 (original version)

The Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, under the baton of conductor Paavo Järvi, had two wonderful treasures in store for us concertgoers to open the season. In a remarkable convergence of talent and artistry, they presented Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129, featuring this year’s Focus Artist, cellist Kian Soltani. His interpretation of the concerto also brought forth his unique Persian heritage, which infuses the piece with added depth and emotional resonance. Soltani’s outstanding playing created a moving experience for the audience. The cello bow seemed to be a mere extension of his arm, his fingers flying over the fingerboard as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Schumann’s Cello Concerto is a testament to his ability to capture profound emotion and depth within the confines of a classical concerto. Written during a period of creative flourishing in 1850, Schumann composed the concerto in a mere two weeks, and it stands as one of his most enduring and emotionally charged works.

In this concerto, the orchestra and the solo cello engage in a captivating dialogue, creating a harmonious partnership that elevates the piece to new heights. The first movement (Nicht zu schnell) begins with a hauntingly melancholic introduction by the woodwinds, setting a contemplative mood. The solo cello then enters with a main theme of exquisite beauty. Throughout the first movement, the interplay between the cello and the orchestra is masterfully woven, with the orchestra providing rich textures and thematic support.

The second movement (Langsam) acts as a brief respite. It is in this section that the cello’s lyrical and emotive qualities shine most brightly, drawing the audience into the deeply personal world of Schumann’s music by featuring a descending fifth, a gesture used to the same end in his first piano sonata.

The final movement (Sehr lebhaft) is a tour de force of virtuosity, with the solo cello embarking on a journey of rapid runs and soaring leaps. Schumann’s playful intentions are evident, though some have found this movement’s eccentricity to be enigmatic, even suggesting it foreshadowed Schumann’s later struggles with mental health.

Soltani and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich delivered an extraordinary performance that breathed new life into Schumann’s Cello Concerto. Their collaboration was a masterful demonstration of emotion and a seamless combination of artistries, showcasing the beauty of the concerto’s interplay between soloist and orchestra. The audience was treated to an unforgettable musical experience.

After Soltani’s last bow stroke and the last note of the orchestra, the musicians and their conductor were rewarded with thunderous applause for an extraordinarily successful performance. Then came the soloist’s encore: Soltani announced another work by Schumann, Abendlied, thus giving emphasis to his special admiration for this composer.

The second part of the evening was dedicated to Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony. It can be seen as a testament to the composer’s mastery of orchestration and his ability to create vast, immersive soundscapes. Bruckner composed the symphony with a foreboding of death, and that is how it was to turn out: it remained incomplete at the time of Bruckner’s passing.

The Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich took on the monumental task of presenting this symphony to the audience, offering a rendition of the three completed movements that provides a glimpse into Bruckner’s genius.

Järvi’s interpretation of the symphony was marked by a deep understanding of Bruckner’s unique harmonic language and his ability to build tension and release it with dramatic flair. Järvi himself is an avowed Bruckner admirer – so the symphony was recorded during the concert, as part of the Bruckner cycle that the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich is currently recording. Eagerly awaiting this particular Bruckner, looking at the numerous microphones hanging from the ceiling of the large hall, we were sitting almost spellbound in anticipation of the first notes of the orchestra.

The first movement (Feierlich, misterioso) with its expansive themes, demonstrated the orchestra’s ability to convey the full emotional spectrum of Bruckner’s music. The commitment of the musicians to Bruckner’s vision was evident in every note, as they guided the audience through the symphonic landscape with skill and sensitivity.

The Scherzo: Bewegt, lebhaft – Trio: Schnell second movement was lively and rhythmic bringing a sense of dynamism and contrast to the symphony. Here, the orchestra demonstrated its versatility, navigating the intricate rhythms and melodic fragments with energy and precision. The musicians, under Järvi’s direction, brought a sense of urgency and drive to this movement.

The third movement, a solemn and introspective Adagio: Langsam, feierlich, allowed the orchestra to shine in its ability to convey deep introspection and emotional depth. The orchestra’s performance captured the profound melancholy that permeates this movement, creating a moving and immersive experience for the audience.

The Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich and Music Director Paavo Järvi made a brilliant start to the season and gave an insight into what we can expect from it. I for one am very excited about the next concert – the tickets are already booked.

Valérie Litz

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