So hard to believe that just seven hours ago one of the finest concerts so far this summer season (on both sides of the Atlantic) was heard on the same stage that surrendered Maurizio Pollini’s piano to Riccardo Chailly and the legendary Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig.
The program looked promising: a seldom heard piece of youthful zest (Mendelssohn’s “Trumpet Overture” in C Major) and deservedly (sorry, it has to be said), rarely heard violin concerto (Schumann’s work-without-opus is also without the composer’s customary inspired genius) and two of the finest entries in the standard repertoire (also by Schumann: Overture to Manfred and Symphony No. 4 in D Minor).
What could possible go wrong (given that it was still an interesting treat to hear the concerto played with much enthusiasm by Frank Peter Zimmermann)?
Chailly led a spirited performance of the Mendelssohn, allowing new ears to adjust to the singular seating plan of Leipzig’s finest musicians (most fascinating was the relocation of the clarinets and bassoons to the second-last row, just below the solitary tympanist).
While Chailly’s energy was infectious, the gradually mounting ensemble difficulties unwittingly forecast much more of the same as the night wore on. Most curious of all was the voicing of the final chord which seemed to want a further resolution rather than convincingly close down the music.
Zimmermann gave a credible reading (literally, the printed solo part at his side throughout) of the problematic concerto. Compared to tomorrow’s cello concerto, this essay seemed more a try-out than fully formed expression of art. Again, key ensemble junctures went astray and the absence of a cadenza gave the impression of a work that featured the violin rather than one that fully exploits its potential.
After the pause, the rush seemed to be on to make the last train to Alpnachstad.
Chailly’s tempi were so brisk that it was difficult to recognize—much less savour—Schumann’s mastery of mood and form. In Manfred—after the explosive syncopation of the first bar—the vital component of togetherness couldn’t be found on the first magical sound of the “Langsam.” Once the “Allegro” took hold, the music flew away with little sense of structure or attention to harmonic milestones. Closer to the impetuous froth of Rossini than Germanic drama, the poetic tale was astonishingly lightweight—even the crucial, if subdued, dotted brass-calls were dismissed: not wanted on this voyage.
In the symphony, exposition repeats were dropped, not only ruining the intended proportions but also denying newcomers to the magnificent work the opportunity of being able to readily separate exposition from development. (As time goes on, it should be realized that more audience members than ever before will have never heard the repertoire before.)
The most incredible transition in Schumann’s tome (just prior to the Finale) lacked any measure of harmonic weight, gasping for breath instead of keeping the capacity crowd riveted in expectation. After that, it was an unbridled race to the double bar, hoping no one would be injured along the frantic path.
With more Schumann tomorrow, one can only hope that saner tempi will be employed, but don’t take that bet. JWR