Nelsons, Leipzig orchestra go to the source with German standards

October 30, 2019 at 12:07 pm

By Jonathan Blumhofer

Gautier Capuçon performed Schumann’s Cello Concerto with Andris Nelsons conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Tuesday night at Symphony Hall. Photo: Hilary Scott

“Leipzig Week in Boston” continued on Tuesday night with Andris Nelsons conducting the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig at Symphony Hall. The second of this week’s five concerts celebrating the Gewandhausorchester’s “alliance” with the Boston Symphony featured a parade of mostly mid-19th-century hits with strong ties to the illustrious German orchestra.

The night’s biggest offering was Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. Premiered by the Gewandhausorchester in 1842 under the composer’s baton (Mendelssohn was the ensemble’s kapellmeister from 1835 until his death in 1847), it draws on impressions from the composer’s visit to Scotland in 1829. Neither explicitly programmatic nor drawing directly on Scottish airs, the symphony’s four movements evoke the eponymous nation through a variety of subtler means: drones imitating bagpipes; snappy rhythmic figures; rustic, athletic gestures; ruminative, often darkly-scored melodic lines, and the like.

Tuesday’s performance was robust, brimming with dramatic contrasts of mood, texture, and rhythm. The highlight was a sumptuous account of the flowing third movement, which alternates long-breathed melodic lines and taut, martial fanfares. Throughout, there was a lovely sense of space, notably in the penultimate statement of the theme, where melody, descant, and pizzicato accompaniment spoke with the utmost clarity.

In the outer movements, Nelsons micromanaged in a couple of spots—both the first movement exposition’s primary subject and the transition to the finale’s coda, which felt unduly restrained—but otherwise presided over a reading of the piece that was roundly characterful.

The opening movement’s dusky viola hymn glowed and its stormy climax roared. In the boisterous scherzo textural clarity and playful spirits ruled the day. The finale drove purposefully, its fugal episodes, especially, coming across with three-dimensional immediacy, with the concluding peroration singing nobly.

Earlier in the evening, Gautier Capuçon was the soloist in the program’s other major essay, Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto. This 1850 score is one of Schumann’s great, experimental works: introspective and deeply poetic, it toys freely with form while remaining tightly motivic.

Schumann’s concerto suits Capuçon’s skill set perfectly, with his resonant, burnished tone, flawless intonation, and keen musical sensibilities.

Capuçon’s performance of the solo part on Tuesday didn’t disappoint. The first movement was dreamy and brooding, the short second serene with a lilting duet between soloist and principal cello. And the propulsive finale danced agreeably.

In the orchestra, the latter had something of a cathartic quality which was, perhaps, a response to Nelsons’ episodic approach to the first movement. There were impressive moments in that one, certainly—the tempestuous moments seethed, and there was an obvious, striking rapport between ensemble and soloist—but the overriding interpretive impression was shapeless.

Better were the latter two sections. The interlude-like central movement was hushed and focused, while the finale drove all before it.

Afterwards, Capuçon and the first three desks of the GHO cello section rewarded a rousing ovation with a swooning encore of Dvorak’s song, “Lass mich allein.”

To begin the night, Nelsons led the GHO in a delicately-textured reading of the “Blumine” movement that was originally a part of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Superfluous though it is to the symphony, the movement makes a lovely curtain-raiser, exhibiting as it does nearly all of Mahler’s mature musical characteristics in under ten minutes.

Tuesday’s rendition featured an impeccable account of the solo trumpet passage and delicately atmospheric renderings of the string-and-woodwind accompaniment. Throughout, the GHO’s playing was opulent: even in the  sparest, most fragile textures, there was a fullness of tone to the orchestra’s playing that was mesmerizing.

Plushness – as well as thundering sonic power – was abundantly evident in the exhilarating account of Wagner’s Overture to Der fliegende Holländer that opened the concert’s second half. As in the Mahler, everything here clicked, interpretively and instrumentally. Wagner’s writing for woodwinds, in particular, was perfectly blended and beautifully rendered, while the Overture’s stormy sections roiled furiously.

“Leipzig Week in Boston” concludes with Andris Nelsons leading the combined Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Boston Symphony Orchestra in music by Richard Strauss, Franz Josef Haydn, Arnold Schoenberg, and Alexander Scriabin 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 6 p.m. Friday. bso.org; 888-266-1200

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