Andris Nelsons and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

Royal Festival Hall

Tuesday 9th October, 2018, 7:30pm

Performers

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Andris Nelsons Gewandhauskapellmeister
Kristine Opolais soprano

Repertoire

Andris Dzenitis: Mara for orchestra (UK premiere)
Tchaikovsky: Liza’s arioso from The Queen of Spades; Polonaise from Eugene Onegin; Tatyana’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin
Interval
Mahler: Symphony No.1

Part of Classical Season 2018/19

Described by The New York Times as ‘a young dynamo’, Andris Nelsons enjoyed an acclaimed tenure at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra before appointments at two of the world’s most feted musical ensembles: the Boston Symphony Orchestra and, in 2018, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.

Founded in 1743, the Gewandhausorchester performs weekly concerts in the Gewandhaus, Leipzig’s main concert hall, and it also serves as the orchestra in the Leipzig Opera. The Orchestra’s other musical duties include weekly performances at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche, where Bach was the Cantor until his death. Mendelssohn was appointed as Kappellmeister in 1835, part of a long tradition of famous names who have directed this orchestra.

In the second of this pair of concerts, the orchestra presents Mahler’s magnificent First Symphony, alongside a selection of richly lyrical arias and orchestral interludes from some of Tchaikovsky’s best loved operas, including Eugene Onegin’s centrepiece, Tatyana’s affecting ‘Letter Scene’.

The evening opens with the UK premiere of a new work Māra from the rising Latvian composer Andris Dzenitis.

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Review by Mark Pullinger, Bachtrack:

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[…]     “Nelsons, conducting much of the evening with his left hand gripping the podium rail, also had a firm grip on Mahler 1 after the interval. It was richly detailed with scrupulous attention to dynamics, yet took a long time to catch fire. The tremulous first movement didn’t have an organic sense of flow: rather than an open-hearted stroll enjoying the countryside, this felt like a regimented trek, led by a tour guide directing the itinerary from a clipboard.

The emphatic, foot-stamping Ländler felt rustic enough, but the halting rubatos in the gentle Trio section were just a little too sly, a little too knowing, as if Mahler was tapping the side of his nose. The funeral march third movement was taken at an appropriately laboured, funereal pace, although the excellent double bass’ intonation never wavered in his Frère Jacques solo. A jigging bassoonist in the klezmer invasion hinted at an orchestra itching to break free, which it finally did as Nelsons swept attaca into the finale. This was a thunderous assault where micro-management was abandoned for something more, well, abandoned in spirit. The gleeful eye contact between the two timpanists was terrific… the Gewandhaus had now been let off the leash and were making the most of it. This is what we’d come for.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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[…]     “As the First Symphony in the second of the RFH concerts confirmed, there’s no doubting the power and theatricality that Nelsons brings to this music. As the central pair of movements showed, he still has a tendency to linger just a bit too long over expressive details, though with an orchestra capable of such refined and transparent string playing, that was easy to excuse. He’d made rather heavy weather of some of the slower music in the opening movement too, but the finale was irresistible, sweeping all before it on a flood of brass tone that never overwhelmed the rest of the orchestral picture.”     […]

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Review by David Nice, TheArtsDesk:

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[…]      “But Opolais’s now weighty dramatic soprano did scale down for the core moment of the 17-year-old girl’s touching vulnerability, abetted by oboist Henrik Wahlgren. Violins were a bit ragged in their initial impetuousness, too. The Act Three Polonaise which came before had just the right swagger under Nelsons the dancer; his panache in sailing and landing on the strong first beat of each bar signalled that he might be a good candidate for Vienna’s New Year’s Day Concert.

And as a Mahler conductor, he is in a class of his own already. Not one with which I always agree; the mannerisms, the sometimes inorganic pulling-about, sometimes seem writ a bit too large. But his interpretation of the First Symphony truly exploded in the gigantic finale, with discipline and rhythmic focus, from his clearly welcoming orchestra, and the febrile leadership of Sebastian Breuninger is always a joy to watch. So, too, was the dedicated work of second timpanist Xizi Wang from Leipzig’s Mendelssohn Orchesterakadamie – the first time I’ve ever seen a woman on timps (and why so, one wonders?)

Above all, Nelson’s establishing of a very different mood for each movement made one wonder afresh at the youngish Mahler’s daring back in the late 1880s. Perhaps the funeral-march rounds on the tune we know as “Frère Jacques” could have afforded to sound uglier, less artistic, from their accomplished “singers”, double bass especially; but the dream idyll at the heart of the movement was so rapt, the gauzes of the natural world in the first movement so poetic, the stomping scherzo so earthy.”     […]

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Review by Peter Reed, ClassicalSource:

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[…]      “As ever, she radiated glamour, her voice was on gleaming form, and her finely judged glides to and from notes and her caressing of pitch were fresh and seductive. The most affecting moment, though, came in Tatyana’s complicit amazement at what she is doing with her life, with Henrik Wahlgren’s oboe and Ralf Götz’s horn hovering in attendance like sorrowful guardian angels, and Opolais wondrously focused and disarmingly innocent.      […]

[…]     I now know how a ghost on timpani might sound, courtesy of Marek Stefula, barely buoying up Rainer Hucke’s equally spectral bass ‘Frère Jacques’ solo at the start of the funeral march third movement, and later Nelsons led the orchestra close to reckless Fiddler on the Roof exuberance in the Klezmer music. Any allusion and irony vanished in the Finale, and the orchestra gave Nelsons everything he asked for – control, terrific momentum and, in the quiet passage just before the thrills of the close, playing that made time stand still. The horns stood in the final peroration, you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between the two timpanists’ ensemble, and, while it was never clear how leader Frank-Michael Erben’s possessed playing related to Nelsons’s rather more laid-back style, the results were consistently electrifying.”

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Review by Mark Berry, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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[…]      “Tchaikovsky made much more sense to me, Kristine Opolais on superlative form. In Liza’s third-act arioso from The Queen of Spades and the Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, she truly brought to life her characters, without context, scenery, or titles. One knew and felt what Liza and Tatiana meant, what their plight was – and could have taken dictation, verbal or musical, from her. Hers were fully gestural performances too, very much those of a classic singing actress. The Gewandhaus Orchestra ‘spoke’ splendidly too: this, after all, is an orchestra that plays for the Leipzig Opera as well as the concert hall (and the Thomaskirche). If only Nelsons and/or Opolais had not indulged in quite so extreme gear changes towards the end of the Letter Scene, and if only he had not driven the Polonaise so hard, these would have been ideal performances. No one, however, would have been seriously disappointed.

The first movement of the Mahler symphony opened with great promise: opening string harmonics (and their later repetition) spot on, without sounding clinical, woodwind full of colour and character, offstage brass as well balanced as I can recall.”     […]

 

 

 

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