Der Freischütz – Overture
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Gautier Capuçon (cello)
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 11 March, 2012
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
The capital of the German state of Saxony, Dresden, of just over 500,000 inhabitants, claims two world-class orchestras with long histories. While the Staatskapelle plays mainly at the Semperoper, the Philharmonic does symphony concerts only. From 2004 until this season its conductor is Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. It was he, not Music Director designate Michael Sanderling, who brought the orchestra to New York.
From the first downbeat, and the vastly delayed response from the musicians, one was aware of hearing an almost-lost style of orchestral playing. Even in the acoustically much-maligned Avery Fisher Hall the Philharmonic players were able to produce a rich, rounded and warm string sonority, while the winds retain individual character. The sound of the oboe is sweet, the clarinets earthy; and horns retain the character of their valve-less sylvan ancestors.
Given such an ‘old world’ orchestra, and repertoire which draws on its strengths, one expected highly idiomatic performances, and in some respects they were. The opening of the Weber conjured up a forest at dawn, and the C major section just before the coda lacked nothing in majesty. What was missing, however, were the dark undertones, the drama of the Wolfsschlucht. Taken at a moderate tempo, the body of the work rather resembled a pleasant stroll in the park than a frightening encounter with the supernatural; yet the happy rejoicing of the coda was taken at such a clip that it sounded manic.
The orchestra’s palette of color was featured best in the Dvořák, Frühbeck providing a sensitive accompaniment to the rhapsodic account of Gautier Capuçon. However, there was something middle-of-the road, even generic, about the cellist’s playing. He has a gorgeous tone and impeccable technique, but one wished for more variety of sound, and for a more structured approach. There were some beautiful details, but overall it lacked sweep and passion.
Given the nature of the Dresden Philharmonic, with double woodwinds, one could expect nothing but a full-bodied, ‘old-fashioned’ – as opposed to ‘historically informed’ – statement of the Beethoven. Sonically it was, capitalizing on the distinctive sound and the majestic – even if sometimes slightly over-balancing – brass. One shouldn’t forget that this symphony was written by Beethoven the revolutionary, not as a precursor to Bruckner. Underlying drama and propulsion were missing. This wasn’t a matter of tempos, although they were moderate, but of a vertical approach rather than a horizontal one. Instead of long lines and arcs of tension yearning for resolution, Frühbeck gave us statements of fact without an overriding dramatic structure. Barely allowing for a breath he connected movements almost seamlessly, but thereby robbing them of their individual character, while the amazing transition from scherzo to finale was lackluster. It was an exercise in sequences rather than Beethoven’s highly-charged build-up to the majestic C major breakthrough.
In an odd choice, Frühbeck followed this venerated work with two lightweight and completely unrelated Spanish encores: the ‘Intermezzo’ from Granados’s Goyescas, and Gimenez’s La boda de Luis Alonso, o La noche del encierro.