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Does it matter?

12/19/2009 -  & Dec. 20, 2009
Richard Wagner: Siegfried-Idyll
Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen
Peter Tchaikowsky: Nutcracker Suite, opus 71a

Tonhalle Orchestra, Kent Nagano (conductor)

K. Nagano (© Nicolas Ruel)

Does it matter in a concert if, when the individual pieces appear to have only a tenuous connection with each other, nevertheless the concert is a delight?

The Siegfried-Idyll was written while Wagner was living in Tribschen near Lucerne as a birthday gift for his wife Cosima. Wagner principally of course wrote operas and some songs; he did not write very much at all in the way of orchestral music and this piece just does not feel like a complete or even a satisfying work. It lacks structure but it does provide a platform for some idyllic and delicate string playing which the Tonhalle were more than able to provide. Members of the Tonhalle were in fact the very first players to perform the piece, in the stairwell of the villa in Tribschen back in 1870.

Metamorphosen on the other hand is a work by a composer who wrote operas, songs and substantial, satisfying tone poems. This study for 23 strings again provided a showcase for the Tonhalle’s strings and they excelled. Nagano never let the tempi linger or drag and brought the emotional content to the fore. The piece was commissioned by the Swiss conductor and patron Paul Sacher for his Collegium Musicum and premiered at the Tonhalle in 1946 with the sombre background of the bombed ruins of the great opera houses and concert halls of Europe. The string counterpoint was exact and urgent, the climax almost joyous, before dying away before a gripped audience. Special praise must go to the Leader Andreas Janke and Principal Cellist Thomas Grossenbacher.

It being the season of goodwill to all men, the orchestra entertained us in the second half with the Nutcracker Suite, all the usual lollipops, served with verve and panache by Kent Nagano and an orchestra who, despite lack of Russian rawness, relished the levity, particularly after the relative gloom of the Metamorphosen. The performance was full of charm and elegance, from helter-skelter scampering strings in the “Russian Dance”, the bobbing bassoonist in the “Chinese Dance”, the nimble-fingered harpist in the “Dance of the Flowers”, the rhythmic celesta in the “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy” (Tchaikovsky had discovered the newly-invented instrument just before departing for the U.S. and was immediately captivated by its divinely beautiful tone) and the swaying flautists in the “Dance of the Reed Flutes”.

To send us merrily on our way into the snow Nagano gave us a jolly encore, the “St. Petersburg Sleigh ride”.

So few connections, but does it matter? Not at all.

John Rhodes



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