CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF 5/29/08
Franz Schubert: Andante in B minor from Symphonic Fragments, D. 936A (compl. Brian Newbould). Béla Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin; Viola Concerto (compl. Tibor Serly). Johann Strauss, Jr.: Emperor Waltz, Op. 437. (Kim Kashkashian, va.; Franz Welser-Möst, cond.)
What do you do with an artist's unfinished work? Earlier this year, lovers of literature waited with bated breath to learn the fate of Vladimir Nabokov's novel-fragment The Original of Laura. Nabokov had asked that any incomplete writings be destroyed after his death, and word had it that Dmitri Nabokov was finally to decide whether to follow his father's wishes. Just last month, Der Spiegel got the big scoop. Vladimir had appeared to Dmitri in a vision and told him to publish.
One can only hope the elder Nabokov will be as generous with posthumous editing instructions as he was with publishing advice. In the absence of unequivocal directives on a work's final form, one can end up with a situation like that of Béla Bartók's unfinished Viola Concerto, which is available in a number of different completions. For a variety of aesthetic, historical, and, yes, legal reasons, the reconstruction most often heard is by Bartók's friend Tibor Serly. And this is the version followed by Kim Kashkashian—with some emendation, if I'm not mistaken—at this weekend's Cleveland Orchestra concerts.
Kashkashian's reading of this concerto is perceptive, rather introspective, and very, very dark. Even her virtuosic playing in the concluding Allegro vivace seems unhealthy and feverish instead of showy. The music dances, but it's a frantic danse macabre. It's a pity that Thursday's performance wasn't more polished: the coordination between soloist and orchestra more than once appeared on the verge of disintegration. But an imperfect, conceptually vital realization is preferable to something elegant and hollow. And though in the end you'll probably prefer Kashkashian's superb recording of the concerto with recent Orchestra visitor Peter Eötvõs, the live version is well worth hearing.
This weekend's concerts open with another unfinished work: the second movement from what might have become Schubert's Symphony No. 10, as completed by Brian Newbould. Franz Welser-Möst's well-gauged control of tempo resulted in a lucid and eloquent performance of Schubert's Andante. Its power was enhanced by Welser-Möst's emotional restraint and sense of proportion.
I was less convinced by the conductor's version of Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin. Welser-Möst again effected some neat manipulation of tempos—in the second "decoy game," for example. There were some impressively pungent orchestral textures, especially during the girl's dance for the Mandarin. But there were also some significant balance problems. And a couple of key dramatic moments—the Mandarin's first entrance and the passage during which the tramp draws his rust-covered sword—sounded oddly inconsequential.
Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Emperor Waltz concluded the program. There's no doubt that Welser-Möst has a tremendous flair for this music: he conducts it about as well as anyone. But this music seemed woefully lightweight after fifty minutes of rough-and-tumble Bartók: as bizarrely out of place as a Lawrence Welk record in a biker-bar jukebox.
Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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