Mixed Bag Kicks Off Carnegie’s Season
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Carnegie Hall opened its season on Wednesday night, with a touch of drama: One of the soloists, the German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, had to withdraw. He was suffering from an inflamed vocal cord — and that means, no singing, no matter what the occasion and no matter what your desire.
So, the hall looked around, and looked specifically at the Metropolitan Opera. Who was singing there? Well, for one, the German soprano Dorothea Röschmann, who is appearing in Mozart’s “Idomeneo.” She had the night off — so they booked her. Smart move, too, as Ms. Röschmann is one of the finest singers in the world (as is Mr. Quasthoff).
An orchestra was on hand, too. That was the Cleveland Orchestra, led by its music director, Franz Welser-Möst. They are in town for a threeconcert stay, concluding tomorrow night. The opening-night program was introduced by Paula Zahn, of CNN.There was a time when journalists didn’t look like movie stars. That was before television, of course.
Mr. Welser-Möst began with a piece that used to be universally known but is now very seldom heard in a concert hall: the “Light Cavalry” Overture, by Franz von Suppé. In fact, the light repertoire — serious light repertoire — has all but disappeared, and that is a shame. Good for Mr. Welser-Möst for bringing back Suppé. And hearing the “Light Cavalry” made me want to hear the “Poet and Peasant” (by the same composer).
And how did the Cleveland play? Fully and grandly and well. The brass were alert and gleaming. There were a couple of bobbles in the trumpets, but nothing tragic. Also, the orchestra’s clarinetist contributed a stylish, exotic solo. That was good to hear, as the Cleveland has a particular history with the clarinet: Its late principal, Robert Marcellus, was one of the greatest orchestral musicians of the 20th century.
This concert, in addition to having a singer, had a pianist. And he was the originally scheduled one: Leif Ove Andsnes, from Norway. He played Mozart’s Concerto No. 17 in G, K. 453, a masterpiece (natch). It must have seemed strange to Mr. Andsnes to be playing with a symphony orchestra, and a conductor: In recent years, he has conducted his Mozart concertos himself, from the keyboard, with a chamber orchestra. He was kickin’ it old-school on this occasion.
Let me say straight away that Mr. Andsnes is a superb pianist. For the last 10 years, I and others have spilled endless ink in praise of him. And on Wednesday night, he displayed many of his virtues. He was stately, controlled, intelligent — and clean, clean, clean. There is not a cleaner musician on the planet.
But, gosh, was this concerto dull, and Mozart certainly didn’t write it that way. Mr. Andsnes was very polite, very tasteful, very decorous. But he might have injected more character into his playing, even some soul. He might have done us the simple favor of playing out more — a simple question of volume.
The orchestra was no better — worse, in fact. Mozart’s slow movement (Andante) is one of the most sublime things in music.And the orchestra played it with little warmth, little beauty — little heart. No one is asking for emoting, but an indication of life would be nice.
And how about the closing movement? An Allegretto, it is about the most gladdening thing you’ll ever hear. Its mirth, pleasure, and ingenuity are boundless. But Mr. Welser-Möst and the orchestra were rather sleepy and flaccid. As for the pianist, he rebelled a bit, and he really woke up for the final section. But that was very late in the game.
After intermission, Dorothea Röschmann took her turn. She sang two Mozart arias, both from “The Marriage of Figaro”: “Porgi, amor” and “Dove sono.” Ms. Röschmann’s appearance was awfully brief for so great a performer — but you take what you can get.
A mere five days ago in these pages — reviewing “Idomeneo” — I gushed over Ms. Röschmann’s singing, and in particular her Mozart singing. I do not intend to re-gush here. But I note that Ms. Röschmann’s voice sounds much bigger in Carnegie Hall than it does in, say, the Metropolitan Opera House or Salzburg’s Great Festival Hall. It retains its beauty and elegance, of course.
A couple of more notes: Ms. Röschmann sang the recitative to “Dove sono” with incisiveness and guts. It is, indeed, possible to perform Mozart tastefully yet full-bloodedly. In fact, it is often necessary. Sure, there were problems in this aria: Ms. Röschmann flat missed a note (and “flat” is the word). She should have made more of certain rhythm. She grabbed a bit at a freestanding high A.
But these are quibbles. If your singer cancels and you can get Dorothea Röschmann — rejoice.
Mr. Welser-Möst ended his program with a group of Strauss — Johann Strauss Jr., Vienna’s finest. You know how Eileen Farrell declared, “I Gotta Right To Sing the Blues”? Well, Mr. Welser-Möst, an Austrian, certainly has a right to conduct the Strauss family. But this does not ensure that his Strauss is definitive, even satisfying.
In his hands, the “Artist’s Life”Waltz was respectable, but it can be far more stirring, and more interesting.The “Annen” Polka was similarly okay — nothing to get up and dance about.
And the “Fledermaus” Overture, which closed the program? It had some nice sound, some nice swellings, some nice bounce. And what a great piece, wouldn’t you agree? Not even the sternest folks would remove that from the repertoire. I think.
Until October 7 (57th Street and Seventh Avenue, 212-247-7800).