Franz Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra at the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid, Spain
The Cleveland Orchestra is on a 21-day tour in Europe that will ultimately conclude in a residency at Vienna's Musikverein. Music Director Franz Welser-Möst and the musicians have performed to sold-out concert halls in Madrid, Valencia, and Paris. The varied programs have included music by Mendelssohn, Weber, Adams, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky.
Madrid's critic announced in the first review, "It is the art of perfection, pure and simple." In Paris, the audience applauded in unison, demanding an encore, and were rewarded with Wagner's Prelude to Act III of Die Meistersinger. The Salle Pleyel fans cheered and yelled out Bravos as Franz and the musicians faced them for the final time.
Cleveland's Plain Dealer newspaper journalist Zachary Lewis has been reporting daily from the tour. Here are the first tour reviews from Madrid:
October 22, 2011
REVIEW - CLASSICAL
The Art of Precision
By J. Á. Vela del Campo
During intermission, the news that ETA had announced the end of its armed struggle spread around the concert hall. Euphoric feelings got hold of many audience members. The last piece on the program was Boléro by the Basque-French composer Ravel; it seemed as though it had been intended as a reaction to what was going on outside, a hypnotic reflection of affectionate feelings for the Basque country. And in fact, it sounded fabulous—with those weapons that Welser-Möst handles so scrupulously: precision, rhythmic control, a certain highly effective minimalism. All that, plus the assurance of having an orchestra like the Cleveland at his command: compact, secure, even luminous.
The Cleveland Orchestra made its Spanish debut at Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela in 1957, under the direction of George Szell, a legend among conductors. Since its founding in 1918, the orchestra has had only seven music directors. Welser-Möst has served since 2002. The orchestra loves him and identifies with his criteria—as does the Vienna Philharmonic, which also appreciates him, having given him the responsibility of conducting the New Year’s Concert at the Musikverein and supported his appointment as musical director of the Staatsoper. He’s a conductor much appreciated by the instrumentalists—let everyone take note.
Welser-Möst was restrained in Mendelssohn, dominating in Stravinsky and brilliant in Ravel. His gestures are sober, his movements a bit mechanical; his image ranges from timid to robot-like, from subtle to introverted. The analytic part takes precedence over the expressive. The artistic results are overwhelmingly effective. It is the art of perfection, pure and simple. No excessive emphases, no special effects, none of those ‟strokes of genius” that are so often arbitrary. He even smiled in the Ravel, completely won over by the work’s rhythmic and timbral richness. All sections of the orchestra responded homogeneously and with great class.
October 25, 2011
REVIEW - CLASSICAL
Warm and Brilliant
After Sunday’s performance, we can safely say that the charge of interpretive dullness that has been frequently associated with the name of Franz Welser-Möst cannot be upheld—far from it. One could even surmise that he went well out of his way to counteract that perception. Not so much in his gestures, of course, which were extremely restrained (though highly effective and precise), but rather in the color and character he gave the scores. The overture to Euryanthe had a splendid brilliance from the very first note; in this reading one could divine the profoundly Germanic roots of Wagner’s Mastersingers. As if by coincidence, the third-act prelude of that opera was given as an encore at the end of the concert. After the Weber overture we heard the Doctor Atomic Symphony by the American composer John Adams. Based on the opera of the same name, premiered in 2005, the work treats of the first secret testing of the nuclear bomb at Los Alamos in 1945. The score is more vertiginous than panic-inducing, more melancholy than terrifying. John Adams’s language is accessible, expressive and unites many different elements. The difficulties of the music, however, are considerable; yet they were resolved with great dexterity by all sections and soloists of the incomparable Cleveland Orchestra. The percussion maintained the necessary tension, while the long notes sustained by the brass lent the music a solemn and almost organ-like naturalness. The work’s subject matter, moreover, was a very sensitive one for everybody, given the recent tragedy of Fukushima.
Then Welser-Möst conducted a Tchaikovsky Fourth whose tempi were much faster than usual, with strongly emphasized contrasts. So much so that the fatalistic tone of the work almost disappeared in a sea of limpid atmospheres. Much attention was paid to the internal voices and to the implacable logic of the symphonic development. The famous Fate motif sounded at times like a fanfare, yet without ever becoming unnatural. The pizzicato of the scherzo had wings and magic. The American musicians launched into the finale like crazy at a truly risky tempo, yet they did not play a single wrong note. Nor was there a single boring moment or a single rigid phrase. In one word: the Austrian conductor seems to have blood in his veins. A lot of it.