Prom 53: 30th August 2001

Incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, Nocturne, Scherzo and Wedding MarchHaydn
Cello Concerto in CDvorak
Symphony No.9 in E minor, ’From the New World’

Truls Mork (cello)

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Herbert Blomstedt

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 August, 2001
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Mendelssohn spent the last ten or so years of his short life (1809-47) in Leipzig as conductor of the Gewandhaus; he also founded the Leipzig Conservatory. His music is a staple of the LGO’s repertoire. The Proms’ guide had indicated 40 minutes of music from Midsummer Night’s Dream, almost all of it excepting the vocal numbers it seemed. In the event, only the four standard excerpts were offered, ’Scherzo’ and ’Nocturne’ swapping places in the normal order; a shame that the splendid ’Intermezzo’ could not have been played.

The performance relayed the Orchestra’s long experience and a sensitive conductor, Blomstedt catching ideally the music’s nocturnal mystery, delicate intertwining and poise; crisply classical and romantically yielding, Blomstedt was rewarded with playing both deft and refulgent.

Haydn’s concerto, only discovered forty or so years ago but authenticated beyond doubt, was given with reduced strings, founded on a single double bass; the intimacy of the reading carrying surprisingly well in the RAH. Mork was in fine form, Blomstedt an attentive accompanist. A lack of colour emphasised this team’s classical conception; there was also a lack of imagination, which with Haydn, of all composers, limited the music’s scope. Mork’s grainy tone made amends, and he was technically impeccable. His dynamic contrasts caught the attention, not least in question and answer episodes; his responses, sounding as echoes, found him at his most expressive.

The ’New World’ was something of a disappointment. Blomstedt’s nebulous conception never quite got to the heart of the music – Dvorak’s homesickness, his musical response to America and the symphony’s darker aspects. The gentle melancholy of the opening suggested a special performance that never materialised. The exposition (repeated) was unsettled, its three-part conception close, but not close enough to realising Dvorak’s through-line; Blomstedt’s geniality suppressed Dvorak’s inner turmoil. Why such a sophisticated musician as Blomstedt should require his trombones to be coarsely overloud and cover detail, the trumpets at the symphony’s close for example, was a recurring doubt; equally his marked slowing for the scherzo’s second part dissipated the energy with which he launched it. The finale had an all-purpose power.

That this was a ’New World’ with pedigree – and antiphonal violins (not always a feature on Blomstedt’s LGO Decca recordings, curiously) – was undeniable. The highlight was the ’Largo’, flowing and unsentimental, although something more personal might have been highlighted, made memorable by Gundel Jannemann-Fischer’s smooth and affecting cor anglais solos.

A lack of identification with the music was Blomstedt’s undoing, as it was in two Slavonic Dances (Op.46/7 & 8), both highly polished and detailed. Blomstedt’s turning to the audience during the first one, big smile, caught the music’s rustic entertainment while reducing Dvorak’s deep craft.

  • BBC Radio 3 re-broadcast, 28 December
  • Part of this concert will be shown on BBC1 Television on Thursday, 6 September, at 11.05pm

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