Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst – Beethoven & Scriabin – New York premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s Chute d’Étoiles

Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Chute d’Étoiles for Two Trumpets and Orchestra [New York premiere]
Grosse Fuge, Op.133
Le Poème de l’extase, Op.54

Michael Sachs & Jack Sutte (trumpets)

Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst

Reviewed by: Gene Gaudette

Reviewed: 13 November, 2012
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Franz Welser-Möst. Photograph: Harald SchneiderThe lower strings of the Cleveland Orchestra dominated the introductory bars of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony – an impressively plush, warm sound, Franz Welser-Möst more concerned with timbre than creating coherent melody, and with a few end-of-phrase ritenutos that sucked what little motion there had been out of the music. Things didn’t get much better once the Allegro began – the lack of robust, incisive rhythm was compounded by some ensemble lapses. The second movement fared far better, though a greater variety of color would have been welcome. The scherzo was too soft-focus, the orchestra rushing ahead in tutti passages. The humorous, Haydnesque sudden dynamic contrasts and syncopated accents in the finale were too understated, and there were further instances of sloppy ensemble.

The Clevelanders and Welser-Möst were more comfortable in Matthias Pintscher’s Chute d’Étoiles (Falling Stars) for two solo trumpets and large orchestra, inspired by Anselm Kiefer’s installation in Paris’s Grand Palais. The two trumpeters play “one part [that] fans out as two”, using identical mutes for much of the work, and blowing into the instrument while tonguing to produce percussive notes in the instrument’s lowest register. The music owes a great deal to Xenakis and Ligeti in the use of clusters, glissandos, and rapid-fire passagework for both the soloists and the orchestra. Welser-Möst drew some impressive, colorful, and, considering the density and use of dissonance, lush and beautiful sounds from the orchestra. Michael Sachs and assistant principal Jack Sutte, generated dazzling sonorities reminiscent of shooting, falling, scintillating, and even exploding stars.

The performance of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge (originally the finale of the B flat String Quartet, Opus 130), performed from the string-quartet parts with double basses doubling the cello line, didn’t reach the low standard achieved with the Fourth Symphony. Intonation and ensemble were solid, but the music came across as a bloodless technical exercise, devoid of drama and feeling. Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy fared far better. Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra transcended the work’s often problematic balances, revealing an astounding amount of detail. The conductor seemed far more engaged than he did in Beethoven, and reined in the work’s unwieldy grand structure, bringing shape and direction to the long phrases, making dramatic and musical sense of the torrents of sound and filigree features. I’ve heard performances that had a somewhat wider dynamic range – to the point of shrillness. There were no such problems with the present performance, which was enormously satisfying from downbeat to the final chord.

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