JWR Articles: Live Event - The Cleveland Orchestra (Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst) - August 29, 2010

The Cleveland Orchestra

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Columbia 87750745 /R
A disappointing farewell

The final concert in Lucerne by The Cleveland Orchestra was a short program with big disappointments.

Debussy’s sublime Prelude was incredibly bloodless, overflowing with wonderful colours—not always in sync—with no apparent purpose or place to go.

The world première of Toshio Hosokawa’s Woven Dreams for Orchestra was largely stillborn as delivered by Franz Welser-Möst. Here’s hoping a further performance by different forces will soon appear on the horizon.

Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben (A Heroic Live) should have been a showstopper but suffered from the same “too much beating, not enough phrasing” endured over the past two evenings (cross-reference below).

The virtual concerto-for-violin section was a precursor of things to come: William Preucil gave an exemplary interpretation of the richly-crafted solo part only to have late-and-loose commentaries (notably from the low brass/low strings), a surprisingly wayward entry and even an unwanted open string spoil the mix.

Enough said.

It seems that the regularly-generous festival audience was not without collective appreciation of the level of music presented over these last three nights. While the final applause was enthusiastic and long enough to draw two encores (nothing more should ever follow a Bruckner symphony), Welser-Möst couldn’t buy a standing ovation for a sponsor’s ransom—and rightly so. JWR

Historical Perspective

Ein Heldenleben
Columbia 87750745 /R
1984 45’ 30”
Herbert Blomstedt, Staatskapelle Dresden
Three and one-half stars

Curious to realize that his recording was being made in Germany while I was attending the 1984 Lucerne Festival—oh to have been a fly on the studio wall!

This performance, after a somewhat stodgy liftoff (the repeated eighth notes in the winds are too chubby to drive the music forward) has some spectacular climaxes. The overall string tone is a marvel and Peter Mirring’s solo violin entries are a study in bow speeds: the frequent repetition of pitch in the “hero’s companion” section is, happily, never quite the same.

The problem stems from Blomstedt’s inability to lead his talented charges over the bar lines between climaxes; the phrases seldom grow organically and those that begin as upbeats tend to put the emphasis on the wrong syllables. Similarly, the dramatic changes of register and unexpected harmonic shifts are more played than prepared. Still, if orchestral glow is your thing then here’s the disc to savour. JWR

Between Performances

During the festival’s 38-day run, a wide variety of non-musical activities was sampled both in Lucerne and other parts of Switzerland. Because of the excellent local and inter-city transportation system, there’s plenty to see and do within a day’s reach and still be back in time for the next performance—Cultural Tourism at its best!

Only a few minutes’ walk from the concert hall is City Train Luzern. Departing hourly from the Schweizerhof Hotel, it's a great way to quickly get the look and feel for Lucerne. In just 40 minutes a lot of territory is covered. JWR

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Conductor - Franz Welser-Möst
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune - Claude Debussy
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 - Richard Strauss
Woven Dreams for Orchestra - Toshio Hosokawa
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