JWR Articles: Live Event - Lucerne Festival Summer (Conductor: Seiji Ozawa) - March 8, 2010 id="543337086">

Lucerne Festival Summer

3.5 3.5

LONDON 417 724-2
Written during the 1984 summer Lucerne Festival; rediscovered in 2009 and published in 2010
Short, but not entirely sweet

This program was remarkable for its brevity—only two works one each from Haydn and Dvořák. Seiji Ozawa tried to meld the gestures of Herbert von Karajan (smooth, but unclear) with the occasional outburst à la Leonard Bernstein. As a result, the playing was restrained and not nearly as warm as the Viennese make themselves sound. The Bostonians only go to as much trouble as it takes to play what they see on the podium and don’t try to cover any maestro deficiencies by playing up to their potential.

The Sinfonia Concertante was mostly together and the soloists were all quite accurate, yet nothing special found its way into the hall. It was a typically North American approach to the music where sound, once again, trumped substance and style.

After intermission, Ozawa spent a good deal of time conducting the tune and ignoring the “New World” Symphony’s inner voices. In the opening French horn solo of the “Allegro molto” there was a mammoth blooper which caused the intent audience to collectively gasp—by the final double bar five more major cracks were added to the misfire tally.

Clearly Ozawa was annoyed but managed to get one back by holding the last chord far longer than indicated by the composer—“ppp lunga” wasn’t released until one of the errant horns couldn’t hang on any longer, uttering a baby bloop on his way to the likelihood of the audition circuit. But, given that the trumpets and trombones all had their moments in unwanted limelight, he might not be the only one soon working up his excerpts.

The rest of the movements were mostly together. In the “Scherzo” Ozawa started as usual (a delayed beat) only—for some reason— to shift to perfectly precise flicks for the staccato segments, producing a major traffic jam in the strings as they scrambled to adjust.

The audience seemed comparatively cool for the opener (only four bows for the Haydn) but went all out for the Symphony resulting in an encore: the “Brahms” version of Bach’s sublime “Air on the G String” (Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major). What a pile of mush it was. Still, the fans didn’t mind a bit. Finally, Ozawa led concert master Joseph Silverstein off the stage and everyone escaped into the night. JWR

Dvořák Symphony No. 9
London Symphony Orchestra
London Jubilee 417 724-2
Four and one-half stars

Historical Comparison

This 1966 recording with István Kertész and the London Symphony Orchestra is a marvel of attention to detail—notably the dynamic arcs which, like the exposition repeat of the “Allegro molto,” are faithfully observed. Only one misfire in the “Finale” from the all of the horns combined puts the London players in small, almost “crack-proof” company; curiously, the chorale sections of the “Largo” lack unanimity of attack but the melodic warmth that follows more than makes up for the few bits of untidiness. Still, the question remains: Is perfect ensemble as atypical as unblemished sound production?

Kertész is rare indeed in clearly revelling/understanding the many harmonic excursions that take the “New World” to nearly every tonal centre on Earth. Add to that his unerring sense of drama and you have a recording to savour then and now. JWR

Between Performances

During the 1984 festival’s 24-day span, a wide variety of non-musical activities was available both in Lucerne and surrounding environs. 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! The article below is an update from the 2010 experience.

If getting there is half the fun, then click on the link here or below to learn more about the cocktail/boat-transfer package being offered nightly by the venerable Palace Luzern Hotel. JWR

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Conductor - Seiji Ozawa
Comparative conductor - István Kertész
Oboe - Ralph Gomberg
Bassoon - Sherman Walt
Cello - Jules Eskin
Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Cello, Oboe and Bassoon - Hob. 1/105 - Franz Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 "From the New World" - Antonin Dvořák
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