Atmosphere counts, and Lucerne Festival has it. It isn't just the setting - gorgeous though this is, with the city's fabulous new(ish) concert hall perched by the lake and its snow-capped mountain backdrop. It reminded me of Salzburg in the late 1960s - the era before that festival's effervescent spirit began to be stifled by record company dominance and a sclerotic approach to repertory.
Neither syndrome seems in danger of afflicting Lucerne, where enough mainstream programming to sell the top-price events (though you can get in cheaply too) is convincingly balanced by a well-planned strand of modern works. Both elements came together in two concerts given by the Cleveland Orchestra and its music director Franz Welser-Möst.
The festival's overall theme this year was "Sprache" (Language) - an idea broad enough, you could argue, hardly to be a theme at all. But at least it was relevant to the matchless interplay of plot and pace that is Verdi's Falstaff. The first few bars of the Clevelanders' concert performance were enough to show that, regarding the hall's much-hyped acoustic, it's all true.
The sound really is as beguiling as legend has it. Add in the authentic Cleveland brand of understated, ultra-virtuoso class, and every detail of Verdi's needlepoint scoring duly scintillated. Meanwhile, Welser-Möst's alert and supple command kept a deft hand on the tiller while allowing his cast time to enjoy themselves.
Next evening's programme was a mixed bag. Kaija Saariaho's Orion presented this Finnish composer's familiar assembly of massed, frosted-glass sonorities - immaculately wrought, and sympathetically written for orchestra and audience alike. The music's tone of over-generalised containment then seemed to transfer to Debussy's La Mer, where Welser-Möst's insistence on rushing most of the first movement ruined its relationship to the speedier second and third.
Far more memorable was the concert's first half, where Welser-Möst's touch with Mozart's "Prague" Symphony beautifully brought together grandeur and grace.
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