Cleveland Orchestra / Franz Welser-Möst, KKL, Lucerne Festival
Monday 06 September 2010
At the moment, there's a certain frisson to any performance of Strauss's Ein Heldenleben by the Cleveland Orchestra under its music director Franz Welser-Möst.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer's music critic, Donald Rosenberg, was shunted off his duties after penning harsh reviews of Welser-Möst's performances. He went to court in protest and a few weeks ago he lost. Strauss's tone poem happens to describe a musical hero's battle with his critics, pitting his swashbuckling might against bickering Beckmessers in the woodwind and "consecutive fifths" (a cardinal sin in academic musical exercises) in the tubas.
The opening took flight with terrific verve, the rhythms taut and galvanised, the phrases springing trampoline-high. The orchestra's tone is sumptuous, the war scene was a knockout, and first horn Richard King and concertmaster William Preucil deserve plaudits for their solos. That formed the climax of this concert in the Lucerne Festival – and if there is a finer concert hall than the Swiss lakeside KKL, in a more wonderful setting, I've yet to see it.
Each year, the festival commissions a new work for the Cleveland Orchestra. This year's was from Toshio Hosokawa. HisWoven Dreams is a musical evocation of the experience of being born. Whether you'd guess this from the music alone without reading the programme note I couldn't say, but it remains fascinating. Richly imagined, featuring surges of intensity and fluctuating power – "storms of amniotic fluid" according to the composer – it involves masterful manipulations of pace and timbre, with a Zen-like sense of meditative focus.
Welser-Möst brought off the Hosokawa splendidly, but the same couldn't wholly be said of the programme's opener, Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune: it sounded as if the mythical protagonist had spent too much of his afternoon in the sun and emerged sluggish and occasionally lacking in co-ordination. Welser-Möst may not live up to the nickname he was awarded during his LPO stint 20 years ago, "Frankly Worse than Most"; in the right repertoire, he can be Rather Better than Some. But uncertain ensemble in the Debussy, some scrambled and sour moments in the Strauss and Welser-Möst's oddly diffident platform manner took off a little shine.
Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
- 2 Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
- 3 Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
- 4 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 5 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest