2008.08.31 – Das Lied von der Erde, Lucerne Festival Johan Botha, Welser-Möst
Sunday 31 August 2008
Konzertsaal, Lucerne, as part of the Lucerne Festival
Johan Botha (replacing Jonas Kaufmann)
The Cleveland Orchestra
Drei Orchesterstücke op. 6
Das Lied von der Erde
What the critics say
Martina Wohlthat, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 3 September 2008
Excellent culture of sound
Since the glorious days of George Szell and Christoph von Dohnányi the Cleveland Orchestra is considered as one of the world’s best orchestras. In three concerts at the KKL in Lucerne the ensemble under its principal conductor Franz Welser-Möst lived up to its reputation. Welser-Möst has held the tradition of the orchestra’s artistic direction for six years and it is amazing in how disciplined and consistent a way the orchestral culture of the highest level is maintained here. Despite a longer-term tour of Europe of the Americans no signs of fatigue whatsoever were perceptible on the three evenings. The strings’ silvery sound, the woodwinds’ warm timbre and the brass’s sharp contours combined to a sound mixture in rarely achieved perfection.
On the second evening the confrontation of two works from the beginning of the 20th century was convincing. The proximity of Alban Berg’s Three Orchestra Pieces op. 6 to Gustav Mahler became audible not only in the hammer blows at the climax of Berg’s finale. The pieces, as shimmering in the orchestra as they are apocalyptic, may be interpreted as a vision of the approaching WWI in sound. Welser-Möst focussed the forces in a precise and a little pragmatic manner. The middle movement with the title “Reigen” [round dance] was rhythmically delicate, the march rhythms in the final movement were pressing, but did not aim at an overpowering of the audience by a sheer mass of sound.
It was very well conceivable that the conductor had a similar ideal of sound in mind for Mahler’s “Lied von der Erde”. Here the transparency of sound and the accuracy in every detail was realized in all the groups of the orchestra too. Only the vocal cast brought cutbacks in the lyrical conception of the interpretation. After Jonas Kaufmann’s cancellation tenor Johan Botha stood in and brought more heroic pathos into the work than was probably intended originally. From this resulted a mismatch between Botha and the less vociferous but exemplarily articulating interpretation of baritone Simon Keenlyside. While Botha certainly stemmed his high notes his voice lacked nuances in terms of colour. Keenlyside interpreted the portrait of the “Einsame im Herbst” [lonely one in autumn] in an incomparably more versatile way, in partly almost pale colours, and pushed the limit of beauty in sound also in “Abschied” [farewell]. In the first section his voice became almost soundless and brittle but in the course of the movement it gained translucent intensity, accompanied by the impeccable phrasings of flute and oboe.