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Beethoven, Pintscher, and, er, Scriabin’s Le poème de l’extase from Welser-Möst

15 November 2012

Franz Welser-Möst’s programme was rather eclectic for this Carnegie Hall visit from the Cleveland Orchestra. Matthias Pintscher’s static, ethereal new work, Chute d’Étoiles (“Falling Stars”), found itself sandwiched between two of Beethoven’s busiest works, the Fourth Symphony and the Grosse Fuge, both of which are in the key of B flat major. Scriabin’s heady Le poème de l’extase then played coda to an already long concert. Trying to work out the connection between the four? So am I.

Beethoven and even new compositions are normal territory for Welser-Möst, who returns to Carnegie later in the season for three concerts with his (kind-of) other orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic. But Scriabin’s orgiastic, brazenly sexual, deliciously over-the-top tone poem? It’s not a link I’d naturally make, and this perfomance didn’t persuade me to think otherwise. Where other conductors might tease out Scriabin’s fragrant atmospherics of ecstasy, much of Welser-Möst’s performance had a distinctly buttoned-up feel to it. Restrained coyness is not exactly what might best be expressed by this composer’s tumultuous expression. (Incidentally, the piece itself was premièred at Carnegie.) Still, the Cleveland Orchestra’s ravishing embrace of sound compensated, a welcome reminder that, away from the East Coast, some of the great American orchestras have retained their distinctive but heavily Germanic flavour.

I could have gone so much further with the puns on this one, but self-restraint seemed in order. I love the Cleveland Orchestra, who seem incapable of making an ugly sound unless it’s warranted. I make the point later on the review – which you can read in full here – that it’s a bit unfair on Matthias Pintscher to put a new work next to Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge in a programme. The Fuge still, after nearly 200 years, sounds shockingly modern, or at least it did in Welser-Möst’s hands. Posts about Beethoven’s application in the modern world will come again soon enough: John Eliot Gardiner directs the Choral tomorrow night at Carnegie and, in a pleasant reprise, Daniel Barenboim brings WEDO’s cycle to New York at the end of January.

On which note, birthday wishes to Barenboim, on this, his 70th. His tireless energy makes me feel old at 47 years his junior. Events ongoing in the Middle East show us that there has never been as important a time for him and his brave orchestra to come to the United States.

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