Sunday, June 21, 2020

Goldener Saal, Musikverein, Vienna

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

While America’s orchestras and opera houses close down, French cities are under curfew, and the latest pandemic wave is calling for second/third tier restrictions across the United Kingdom, this morning-suited concert from last June reminded of the Vienna Philharmonic back to temporary normality with standard seating and single stands per string desk. Ever the elegant, unfussed gentleman, studious in a Mahlerian way, Franz Welser-Möst is a conductor who over the years has matured into a man with strong musical ideas and degrees of refined fantasy, clarity of vision and execution and responsibility to the composer, score before him, uppermost. Showmanship, the generalissimo approach, he leaves to others.

There was nothing to fault about this hour of music-making but everything to savour. The Four Symphonic Interludes from Richard Strauss’s Intermezzo (Opus 72, 1919-23), not so often programmed, were all about style and nuance, elegant fragments of waltz and long, sweeping paragraphs, the allusions and climax of the second movement, ‘Dreaming by the Fireside’, making for a gloriously painted slow heart. The strings (violas to the right) thrust and parried in the third, ‘At the Card Table’; the piano (far left behind the first violins) cast its haunting tones in the first, not as memorably (mis)-tuned as the old Keilberth Bavarian recording but still entrancing.

Back in his LPO days Welser-Möst used to be taken to task for his perceived pedantry and lethargy. This Vienna take on Schubert’s tricky Third Symphony (1815, Battle of Waterloo time) could not have been further removed. Inspiringly, one of the best, most brilliant, finest cultured accounts I’ve ever heard. More strings than for the Strauss (six rather than three double-basses underpinning and reverberating the bass end); gloriously voiced reed woodwind; hard-stick timpani. The D-major first movement scaled grand summits. The Allegretto (crotchet around the nineties) danced and sang with ‘Trout’-like effervescence. The Minuet and its scherzo under-belly blazed yet with time for the oboe Trio to reflect. The tarantella Finale tumbled and roared, less mountain brook than white water rapids, veritably an ‘apotheosis of the dance’ to give Beethoven a run for his money. Relishing the moment, the players leant into every note and detail, involved to the hilt. Restricted audience but vigorous applause – people know when they’re onto a good thing.

Outstanding audio and camera direction. Terrific.