CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 8 MARCH 2007
Max Bruch: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26. Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major ("Romantic"). (Sergei Khachatryan, v.; Kurt Masur, cond.)
Can ghosts feel affronted? The question is raised by the case of the violinist and conductor Ignaz Dorn, who introduced Anton Bruckner to the music of Liszt and Berlioz. Years later, when Bruckner was hard at work on a symphony, the deceased Dorn appeared in one of his dreams and suggested a theme for the finale. Max von Oberleithner, the student of Bruckner's who recorded the story, claimed that in the end Bruckner didn't use Dorn's theme, but no one is really certain. And that may be a good thing. One hates to imagine Dorn coming all the way back from the grave to lend a helping hand, only to have his assistance rejected.
The symphony in question, according to Oberleithner, was the Fourth. And certainly its text had a relatively torturous history—even for Bruckner. Kurt Masur, opting for the Haas edition, led the Cleveland Orchestra in a Thursday evening performance of the Fourth that lacked the excessive ceremoniousness often associated with the composer. In that respect Masur resembled Franz Welser-Möst, who conducted the Bruckner Fifth at Severance Hall almost exactly a year ago. And yet Masur's conducting made a decidedly different impression from Welser-Möst's.
Despite its lack of pomposity, this was not an especially dramatic Fourth. Masur emphasized the symphony's organic qualities—its large-scale architecture and the relationships between its thematic components. At times Thursday evening the Orchestra's realization of the work was less than ideally crisp. There were some particularly conspicuous mishaps in the horn section. And Masur's version of the Scherzo sounded, for a number of reasons, disappointingly uneven. Nonetheless, this was an appealing version of Bruckner's "Romantic" symphony—though its attractions tended to be intellectual rather than visceral.
Masur was joined by frequent Orchestra visitor Sergey Khachatryan in the other work on the program: the Bruch First Violin Concerto. There's much to admire in Khachatryan's playing—in his technical sureness and his full-bodied tone. But there's something a bit affected about it as well. The young violinist was a little too eager to stress the more sentimental passages of Bruch's Finale, for example. And his version of the work's Adagio had a rather conventional, glossy loveliness, as if it were merely film music dressed in formal attire. I couldn't help but feel that Masur's astute, articulate accompaniment was ultimately more satisfying than the soloist.
And perhaps it's not unfitting that Masur should be the main attraction. His visit offers a rare opportunity for residents of northeast Ohio to see both a skilled conductor and a significant historical figure. It was less than two decades ago (though it seems another age entirely) that Masur, as one of the so-called "Leipzig Six," boldly confronted the East German government—and so helped put to rest some of the century's most unquiet ghosts.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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