Pfitzner’s Three Preludes from his opera, Palestrina. Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Violin Concerto. Mendelssohn’s sunny ‘Italian’ Symphony. What a marvellous program. All intensely melodic works, yet all the products of different influences, of different traditions.
Vadim Gluzman. Photo © Marco Borggreve
How interesting, then, that soloist Vadim Gluzman should have chosen as his encore Bach’s Sarabande from the D minor Partita. Technically demanding yet unshowy. Movingly melodic yet starkly intellectual. It was an exquisite performance – meditative, undemonstrative, profound. Thinking back now, it formed, in microcosm, a musical Ars Poetica, an abstract, a central thesis, for the entire program.
Why? Because WASO principal conductor Asher Fisch’s customary balance of intellectual engagement, technical precision and deep understanding of operatic as much as instrumental styles and traditions ensured more than lip service was paid to the Wagnerian underpinnings of the Pfitzner, the disciplined romanticism of the Tchaikovsky and the Mozartian inflections of the Mendelssohn.
It goes without saying that WASO played their hearts out for Fisch. They always do, and this was evident from the outset, Pfizner’s slightly bonkers sound-world and sometimes novel orchestrations (the pronounced use of flutes and trombones alone evoke a surreal Renaissance fantasy), so different from Respighi’s garish colours, were incisively rendered as narrative tempera.
Fisch eased into the Tchaikovsky, building the tension early on but keeping his powder dry. Gluzman’s entry came almost as an interjection, as though he’d just been passing and thought he’d join in the conversation before dominating it entirely – but in a good way. This was the art that concealed art, the tone, the phrasing, the expressive gestures – especially in the first-movement cadenza, so caressingly rhetorical and not without humour – utterly at the service of the music. The Finale fireworks were thus as celebratory as they were exhilarating. Throughout, Fisch and WASO wrought that kind of subtle magic which makes the orchestral elements seem almost to have been conjured out of thin air by the soloist. The rapturous applause was more than deserved.
I suspect Fisch thinks Mendelssohn, like Schumann, is still underrated. Whatever. Of his five symphonies, Mendelssohn’s fourth, the so-called ‘Italian’, is the most popular (the ‘Scottish’ comes a close second). At just under 30 minutes it packs a real punch, bursting with melodic ideas and a terrific first-movement fugato that never fails to knock your socks off. The final Saltarello, too, is as exhilarating as the final movement of the Tchaikovsky.
And so it was here, with Fisch and WASO understanding that accurate expression owes as much to sober exposition as it does to passionate deliberation.