After two successive evenings with the Royal Concertgebouw it was the turn of the Vienna Philharmonic. What great orchestras they both are but sounded very different in tone quality; the former with much warmth and gravitas, the latter more streamlined and brilliant.
On the first night we heard Haydn’s famous cello concerto in C major with Sol Gabetta as soloist and Bruckner’s mighty symphony no 5 in B flat a seventy five minutes long work strong on polyphonic profundity.
37 year old cellist from Argentina Gabetta came from a musical family. At the age of 10 she won her first competition performing this same concerto at her debut. Since then a career has flourished in the German-speaking world where she runs her own television programme and festival.
The rather reverberant acoustic of the KKL did not help matters as she took a rather quick pace for the first and third movement. As a result some phrases sounded thin and quick semi-quaver runs disappeared all together. It was not a musically satisfying performance although technically very efficient. The conductor Franz Welser-Möst did his best to liven it up and the mostly string orchestra fared very well indeed providing a stable accompaniment.
The second half of the programme also had its own problems. I would put the blame on Bruckner himself rather than on the interpreters. The opening movement starts with a pompous fanfare and goes on to develop into a full sonata form structure. Yet it is weak in ideas and was not convincing even in Welser-Möst’s hands. The slow movement Adagio was based on a beautiful theme but again failed to convince as a whole. The third and fourth movement the Scherzo and Finale however more than passed the grade and rounded-off the work to a blazing climax and end.
The second night was a memorable event in the life of young Austro-Persian cellist Kian Soltani who I first encountered at the Salzburg Festival playing chamber music with Daniel and Michael Barenboim. He is a real find. In these days of clones who sound indistinguishable he was like a breath of fresh air. He displayed all the advantages of youth with his vitally penetrative tone, acute attention to detail and naive lyricism. This caught my imagination allowing me to hear this warhorse as if anew. Before the concert began he was presented with the 2018 Credit Suisse Young Artist Award. The 26 year old cellist received 75,000/- Suisse Francs and this appearance marking his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic as prize.
When Antonín Dvořák was working on his Cello Concerto he heard that his sister-in-law Josefina had a fatal illness. She had been his dearest love when he was young but she had rejected him for a well-off count. Dvořák then married her younger sister Anna but hearing of Josefina’s illness he incorporated her favourite song into the Adagio. He also extended the work with a melancholy coda after her death. The music is tinged with sadness with prominent woodwind solos in the opening movement borrowing heavily from folk tunes from his native Bohemia.
The other composer of the evening Johannes Brahms shared a fondness for nationalistic themes from Hungary inspired from his great friend Joseph Joachim’s homeland. However the work Welser-Möst chose was his symphony no. 2 op. 73 composed in the summer of 1877 during a visit to the lake side Austrian province of Carinthia.
The cheerful and almost pastoral mood of the symphony invites comparison with Beethoven’s 6 symphony also in D major “The Pastoral”. However Brahms wrote to his publisher that the work “is so melancholy that you will not be able to bear it. I have never written anything so sad and the score must come out with a cautionary black border for mourning”. The works bucolic qualities are reminiscent of Brahms’s earlier orchestral serenades.
The works received its premiere in Vienna making it a fitting choice for 58 year old Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Möst to conduct it with the Vienna forces. And they played for him like angels and to the manner born with the gemuethlichkeit which is their birth right.