Monday, 12 December 2011

Dudamel does OK and nichts mehr

Musikverein, 10/12/2011

Wiener Philharmoniker, Gustavo Dudamel, Matthias Schorn

Strauss: Don Juan, op. 20
Herbert Willi: egó eimí - Concerto for clarinet and orchestra
Mendelssohn: Symphony no. 3 in A minor, op. 56

My expectations were low, but this wasn’t a bad concert. Dudamel had rehearsed the Phil well and seemed quite measured on the podium. This begs the question of what is it like when he’s not being self-indulgent? Considering that this orchestra has played much worse but is capable of much better, pretty average.

The opening of Don Juan came off well, with a buoyancy and Schwung that stopped short of the expected showpiece treatment. Playing throughout remained slick if a touch workmanlike with the exception of concertmaster Rainer Küchl’s solo; try as I might I cannot warm to his wide vibrato, cloying tone and wayward intonation. Dudamel cued an unnecessarily loud brass entry in the middle that drowned out the flute melody, but apart from that balance could not be faulted and only the ending felt overdone. A more troubling problem was his apparent need to create momentum at points which seemed either arbitrary or misguided. Too much detail got lost, structurally things got pulled out of shape, and taken as an attempt to read the work it didn’t emit much credibility.

Herbert Willi’s clarinet concerto opens and closes with an extended unaccompanied monologue from the soloist which is plaintive, winding and no less inscrutable on the second hearing. It was not easy to connect this with what falls between: held triads in the strings, over which Willi has the soloist trying to develop that initial idea only to be stymied by an accordion (positioned between concertmaster and soloist), boogie woogie riffs (very convincing, Philharmoniker) and a marimba solo straight out of a Thomas Cook commercial for a Caribbean package holiday. The cumulative effect was of a PoMo point being belaboured, which Dudamel was wise to downplay. The score posed no challenge for the musicians, who gave a committed performance. Matthias Schorn was excellent, with mellow, even tone and long, spun-out phrases delivered effortlessly in single breaths.

Some assured playing notwithstanding, the Mendelssohn was disappointing: heavy and joyless, as if Dudamel were trying to channel Haitink. Not that Haitink is either of those things, or indeed the Scottish full of mirth, but such was the misapprehension Dudamel seemingly laboured under. Gravitas was possibly in his sights, as well as the expectation that with this orchestra it would just happen should he impose tempi difficult enough to sustain in Bruckner, let alone Mendelssohn. The looks of boredom that glazed over the faces of some tourists who had previously been shouting Du-da-mel to the inflection of U-S-A said it all.

A Konwitschny footnote: am afraid this will have to wait until tomorrow, folks. Busy work day followed by the Harteros Rosenkavalier for the second time, for obvious reasons. Nice to hear this evening that the orchestra has remembered how to play the score.

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