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Frankly Better than Most

05/05/2010 -  & May 6, 7, 2010
Jörg Widmann : Lied für Orchester
Robert Schumann : Piano Concerto, op. 54
Dmitri Shostakovich : Symphony No. 6, op. 54

Radu Lupu (piano)
Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Franz Welser-Möst (conductor)

F. Welser-Möst (© Roger Mastroianni)

Jörg Widmann states that the most important factor for him is to combine the old with the new, recognising that modern composers are part of a musical development and that they follow in the footsteps of giants. In his Lied für Orchester Widmann writes that he is paying homage to Schubert but it was Mahler, not Schubert, one heard in the more traditional tonal sections, specifically the Adagietto of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, sprinkled with some Stravinsky. The structure was ever changing, allegedly a comparison with Schubert’s Lieder; sadly on a number of occasions the sounds resembled electronic interference, harsh harmonics and orchestral tutti which had some members of the audience cover their ears and others awaken from their slumber. Welser-Möst and the Tonhalle Orchestra played the piece bravely but without much conviction.

Radu Lupu is artist in residence at the Tonhalle at the moment and in this concert he showcased the Schumann Piano Concerto. Lupu executed the faster passages with his usual nimble dexterity (one major blunder apart) but failed to distil much charm into the piece; only at the very end of the final Allegro vivace did the work really come to life. It all sounded rather workmanlike.

However Welser-Möst made ample amends in an intelligent performance of Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony, cherishing the details of orchestration in the opening slow movement, displaying clear affinity with the work (notwithstanding that the work, at the time of its composition, was described as an ungainly structure) and with the composer. The orchestra gave a very fine account of themselves, particularly the principal flautist Sabine Poyé Morel, with thoughtful and delicate playing. The final two movements, the helter-skelter central Allegro and the final Presto with its ridiculous but clever ending were played with much skill, ensemble and wit. Shostakovich thought (rightly) that the final movement was the best in the symphony, certainly the most original. One does not normally associate Welser-Möst with wit (as one might with Rozhdesvensky, Temirkanov or Norrington) but the orchestra stamped their feet with delight at the end of an impressive performance of this unusual and delightful work. On this showing, more Shostakovich please, maestro.

John Rhodes



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