Friday, 28 October 2011

Lothar Zagrosek steps in for Fabio Luisi

Musikverein, 14/10/2011

Wiener Symphoniker, Lothar Zagrosek, Jasminka Stancul

Mozart: Piano Concerto no. 24 in C major, KV 467
Mahler: Symphony no. 7

So a star conductor gets poached by the Met, leaving a Viennese musical institution in the lurch. It’s a familiar tale in these parts, and Fabio Luisi’s may yet become as embellished in the telling as Mahler’s, if Thomas Angyan’s comments to the New York Times are anything to go by. For an orchestra in serious need of artistic leadership – Chefdirigent designate Philippe Jordan isn’t due to pick up the pieces until 2014 – the Wiener Symphoniker have taken things rather more stoically, and while it’s nice to be spared a public falling out I do hope there’s some whinging going on behind closed doors. Luisi’s last-minute cancellations have led to some crummy guest conducting, and this concert was the worst so far (Christian Arming’s dull Mahler 3 in June doesn’t seem nearly so bad now). His Symphoniker engagements this season include a further three programmes at the Musikverein and two at the Konzerthaus, split between December, which seems safe enough, and May, when he may or may not end up conducting the Met’s Ring. Luisi trained in Austria and is doubtless aware of how seriously Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln – an immovable feast on the Musikverein calendar – is taken here. Perhaps he might make his excuses a bit earlier for that one.

Lothar Zagrosek, of Decca/Entartete Musik renown, was supposed to be at his Italian holiday home, learning Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra. But even with an Einspringer stepping in as late as this to conduct Mahler’s least-played symphony there’s only so much sloppiness I’m inclined to overlook: woodwind intonation throughout was foul, no brass top note went unblared or timpani note unthumped, and entries were shockingly clumsy – most disappointingly in the first movement, when the recapitulation of the second subject was cued well after the harp glissando had reached its top B. Anything marked mf or above was played with deafening volume, including the ugly snarl of the tenor horn solo, but the mandolin, guitar and anything else less than mp was inaudible – the Bernstein doctrine of Mahler dynamics, taken to extremes that surely even Lenny himself would find ludicrous. And with distended Luftpausen to rival Gatti and all the affectation of Rattle at his worst, Zagrosek’s reading of the work, if we must call it that, was a travesty from beginning to end. Were it not for a brisk finale the performance would have exceeded Klemperer in length; the first movement only expired, along with much of the audience, after a draining thirty-five minutes.

The Mozart was better: just the one moment of dodgy woodwind tuning, and the orchestra together for most of the time, if on the heavy side. Jasminka Stancul’s playing was assured and clean, but allergic to risk – with the expressivity of her phrasing crossing the line from carefully considered to canned. It was good to finally hear a Fazioli at the Musikverein, but for all Stancul’s calculation she failed to get a handle on the much smaller difference in decay between octaves C4 and C5, and the melodic line in the Andante was bumpy. The lightness of her touch worked most effectively in the Allegro vivace, but musically it was only a touch less hemmed in than the first two movements.

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