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Two mop-haired youngsters

Kultur- und Kongresscentrum Luzern
09/17/2010 -  
Johannes Brahms: Tragic Overture op. 81
Robert Schumann: Cello Concerto op. 129
Antonin Dvorák: Symphony No. 9 op. 95 “From the New World”

Nicolas Altstaedt (cello)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel (conductor)

Gustavo Dudamel (© Priska Ketterer)

Two orchestral concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic brought the prestigious Lucerne Festival effectively to its end for this year.

Dudamel opened the first of these concerts not with the Academic Festival Overture, as had been advertised, but with the Tragic Overture. What prompted the change from jollity to gloom can only be a matter of conjecture. The Tragic Overture, despite its name, is not really tragic in nature, more dramatic; it is more austere than overtly impassioned. Dudamel, with his extrovert bouncy gestures - probably necessary for Venezuelan youngsters but not for Viennese virtuosi - extracted as much drama as he could wring from the orchestra. Dudamel evoked the innate struggle in the work, and the ultimate victory over tragedy, blending the disparate parts of the overture into a compact whole.

All attention in the Schumann was, of course, on the soloist. A young mop-haired cellist, Nicolas Altstaedt, was this year’s recipient of the Credit Suisse Young Artist Award, a cheque for 75,000 Swiss Francs and a chance to perform a concerto of his choice with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Festival. In the first movement he played most sensitively, remaining technically unchallenged at all times and was particularly moving in the long contemplative passages. The slow wistful movement was softly and beautifully played before launching into the Finale marked “sehr lebhaft” (very lively) which ended in a flurry of high spirits. His chance to develop deeper musical character will doubtless come with time; this is undoubtedly a cellist to watch.

Then came the old warhorse, Dvorák Ninth. Would Dudamel have anything particularly new to offer? No really enlightening insights, as it turned out. As one expected, he shaped the opening with urgency and dramatic tension, and never allowed tempi to slacken. This was however the chance, finally, for the orchestra to show off its considerable talents, although the horns did not have a particularly good night. The cor anglais was beautifully lyrical in the rustic charm of the poignant Largo.

The bounding Scherzo was full of rhythmic vitality and Viennese lilt. The final movement Allegro con fuoco was filled with strength and dignity, concluding with a particularly high voltage finish. Although it raised the roof, it is hard for this work not to do so, and critics who think the jury is still out on Dudamel may not have been entirely convinced.

Before their final concert one night later, the orchestra invited children and their parents to a free “rehearsal”, which – although nothing at all of a rehearsal – was a most enjoyable childrens’ concert, featuring an analysis of Bernstein’s Divertimento for Orchestra and Ravel’s Bolero. Yet another change of programme: before the concert, we were told to expect Rossini’s overture to La gazza ladra, instead we were treated to the Samba and Turkey Trot – with the audience encouraged to dance and clap along.

The only negative note was that the orchestra remains steadfastly misogynistic; I counted only three ladies in the orchestra and most of these were stated to be casuals purloined from the Viennese State Opera and not members of the Philharmonic.

John Rhodes



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