Sunday, 11 December 2011

Luisi’s Symphoniker Abschied begins

Musikverein, 04/12/2011

Wiener Symphoniker, Fabio Luisi, Martin Haselböck

Hindemith: Concerto for organ and orchestra (1962)
Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie, op. 62

I doubt that Martin Haselböck’s performance of this Hindemith concerto will have convinced many of the composer’s merits as a writer of organ music. There was some effort to achieve the legato that Hindemith’s organ writing needs to give it line, but Haselböck has been a stranger to finger substitution for too long and to my relief, eventually gave up. Elsewhere the breeze-blocks-for-feet pedal technique and erratic hand coordination was almost as bad as when he unwisely attempted to play Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on B.A.C.H. at this instrument’s inauguration concert in March. More irritating for being preventable was the poorly chosen registration. Depending on your view, Hindemith took too little interest in this or intentionally left organists to figure out what works and what doesn’t – an example of that being Haselböck’s bizarre octave displacement of the cantus firmus line in the variations, with a 16’ bassoon (in right hand, not the pedals). How convenient, also, that this reedy, thick and loud stop drowned out some left hand passagework beyond Haselböck’s current technical abilities. For lazy organists like me that’s a time-old trick for getting through tricky bits of Duruflé. But it shouldn’t be happening at the Musikverein.

At least the Symphoniker proved competent. The opening was muddy, but they soon settled down and playing was generally accurate and textures clear. Fabio Luisi’s chances of conducting this work again in the near future are slim and perhaps that’s why he didn't seem to have spent much time with the score – Hindemith’s fascinating formal organization didn’t come across at all clearly. But he held things together well and tempi and balance were fine. It was more disappointing that Haselböck made both the score and instrument – soft targets enough – sound so unmusical, with playing that bore little resemblance to the decent recording of this work he made with the Symphoniker some years ago. Some enterprising soul has put that up on Youtube and it’s recommended for the thoughtful direction of the Symphoniker’s chief conductor at the time, the underrated Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.

Haselböck was not helped by the Musikverein’s new Rieger organ, which seems to have been built less with organ concertos and recitals in mind than as something which would blend inoffensively into the background, even when close to full organ (it simply doesn’t fill the space). I’m going to file that one under ‘Philharmoniker conspiracy theories’. It was no surprise therefore that the instrument and its ferne Klang sounded considerably more effective in the Alpensinfonie than the Hindemith. The orchestra and Luisi too: excellent ensemble, compelling Durchbrüche (particularly the Sonnenaufgang), and the understanding that to be mindlessly representational does this work no favours. Tempi were faster in places than I’m used to hearing, but then the Anstieg is marked as lively in the score. Perhaps Luisi has been hiking with Austrians; that these guys don’t hang around reminds me of Webern diary entries where he writes (with great satisfaction) of climbing the Rax and getting back to Mödling in time for supper. But the odd transitional jolts didn’t seem to matter so much once it became clear that Luisi not only had a firm grip on the ascent/descent span of the work but also thoughts transcendental; between the mists and the Abstieg we were somewhere other than the mountain. Not the final word on the Alpensinfonie but an engaged reading. Also good to see this orchestra back on form again and prepared to make a strong effort for their chief conductor despite all that has gone down with the Met.

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