2018-06-06 — Original posting
Tonhalle Maag, Zurich, 2018-05-29
Anderszewski, Zimmermann / ZKO
Haydn / Mozart / Schreker
This was my second live encounter with the Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski (*1969, see also Wikipedia). The last encounter was almost a year ago, in a solo recital at the (old) Tonhalle Zurich, on 2017-05-30. This concert was in the Tonhalle Maag, and not a solo recital—rather, an event that he shared with the Zürcher Kammerorchester (Zurich Chamber Orchestra, ZKO, see also Wikipedia). For the two Mozart concerti, Anderszewski directed the orchestra from the piano. For the other pieces, the orchestra was led by its concertmaster, Willi Zimmermann.
The program included a symphony by Haydn (No.86) and two concerti by Mozart, all classic works, composed in a narrow pan of around 5 years (1782 – 1786). That program was “spiced up” by the short (and not so spicy) Intermezzo, op.8, by Franz Schreker. This piece was shown as audiovisual performance—with maybe somewhat questionable outcome—but let’s look at the performance in proper sequence:
- No.82 in C major, L’Ours (“The Bear”, 1786)
- No.83 in G minor, La Poule (“The Hen”, 1785)
- No.84 in E♭ major, In Nomine Domini (1786)
- No.85 in B♭ major, La Reine (“The Queen”, 1785)
- No.86 in D major (1786)
- No.87 in A major (1785)
Symphony No.86 in D major, Hob.I:86, includes the following four movements:
- Adagio — Allegro spiritoso
- Capriccio: Largo
- Menuetto: Allegretto — Trio
- Finale: Allegro con spirito
Haydn’s Paris Symphonies and the ZKO
In his time as Chief Conductor of the ZKO, Sir Roger Norrington (*1934) performed a selection of Haydn’s symphonies with the orchestra in concert, among them all of the Paris Symphonies. This is documented on a CD set, recorded 2013—see below for details.
Anderszewski’s performance of two Mozart concerti obviously needed a complement for a full concert program, and for that, a symphony by Haydn seemed the ideal choice. Hence this choice of Haydn’s Symphony No.86 to start the program. Maybe, there was a second thought of proving that two years after Norrington’s time as director, and 5 years after the recording, the orchestra “can still do it”?
As usual with the ZKO, there was a short introductory note, this time given by the flutist, Stéphane Réty, who also pointed out that the CD set described below was available for purchase at a desk in the foyer.
One aspect from Norrington’s time certainly was still here: the historically correct, “antiphonal” setup, with the two violin voices on either side of the podium, cellos behind the first violins, violas behind violin 2 (I counted 5 + 5 + 4 + 4 + 2 string instruments). The orchestra was seated for this concert. Other aspects which the ensemble did not “forget” about included the light articulation, careful dynamics, agility, the vivid, active playing throughout the orchestra, here under the direction of its concertmaster, Willi Zimmermann.
I. Adagio — Allegro spiritoso
The 22-bar Adagio introduction started with careful dynamics, a nice ppp in bar 13, prior to the f outburst. The subsequent allegro spiritoso sounded smooth, light in the articulation, fast, but clean—though (to me) not as provoking as with Norrington: it lacked the “edge”, the extra excitement. The exposition was repeated. Throughout the movement, the dynamics were vivid, accents were all present and clear, not exaggerated. Lively, active playing in the entire ensemble—there was agitation, strong crescendi. Still, compared to what I remember from performances (in general) under Norrington, this felt like a somewhat mitigated, matured performance.
II. Capriccio: Largo
Good string sound—smooth in general, though: the orchestra used modern Tourte bows, modern instruments, no gut strings. I did not expect this to be a “strict HIP” performance. The members of the orchestra all contributed actively, with engagement (the flutist being a prime example!). Not sure what the capriccio aspect (capricious? really?) was in this performance? But OK: Haydn annotated Largo!
III. Menuetto: Allegretto — Trio
Clean playing in the Menuetto—a bit smooth, yet maybe somewhat on the heavy side? Both repeats were observed: thanks!
The Trio with its prominent bassoon (and other woodwind) solo role felt like a leisurely country dance, with good agogics (e.g., the ritenuti at transitions).
IV. Finale: Allegro con spirito
Virtuosic, though the tempo felt somewhat pushed, especially when the orchestra even accelerated in f segments. I liked the build-ups (particularly towards the coda), and the fact that the repeat sign was observed. However, maybe the tempo was a bit beyond the edge: I could not say that the coordination fell apart, but there was a little bit of fuzziness, an occasional lack of clarity / transparency, and a lack of care for details in articulation at the level of motifs. It was good performance—but it did not throw me off the chair.
I can’t pinpoint any serious flaws / deficiencies in the ZKO’s performance—yet, I felt that something essential was missing from Norrington’s time. Was it Norrington’s provoking component, deliberately and subtly upsetting the audience, possibly through a slight unrest, slightly exaggerated accents, sforzati, syncopes? Overall, I had the impression of routine, of a performance that was too clean, too smooth, maybe too perfect, if not even a tad sterile. In a way, “Norrington’s heritage, preserved in formaldehyde?” Please, no!
The announcement of the availability of the CD set reinforced the impression that the orchestra is trying to draw / profit from past achievements. One should note that unless an artist or ensemble is at the very top of the charts, it is very hard these days to make money from CD productions (or other on-line channels for music recordings). For most musicians, CDs now are predominantly a marketing tool.
Of course, I don’t know any of the background for this choice of an opening piece. Maybe there were time constraints that precluded adding a new piece to the repertoire? There may even have been other aspects, as expanding the repertoire not only costs rehearsing time, but may incur non-negligible costs for the sheet music, etc.
Nevertheless: wouldn’t it have been far better for the orchestra to venture into something “new”, i.e., to use the orchestra’s proven abilities, its technical prowess to expand the repertoire? Even if it was “just” one of the many other symphonies by Haydn? Even if times was scarce, and not everything would have been perfect in the concert—I don’t think this would have caused substantial criticism. But the experience would have been more refreshing.
For sure, it would have avoided this aftertaste of music commerce. Or this smell of the early times of the ensemble, when its founder and conductor, Edmond de Stoutz (1920 – 1997), fairly regularly (in programs or as encore) had the orchestra perform the Concerto armonico No.1 in G major by Unico Wilhelm, Count van Wassenaer (1692 – 1766). Also this was music that the orchestra had recorded (on LP). [ Back then, these concerti were still assigned to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710 – 1736). ]
Among the 27 piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791), the Piano Concerto No.12 in A major, K.414 (385p), has the by-name “little A major concerto”, as opposed to the “big” one, K.488. Mozart wrote this in 1782, for his own concert performances (rather than for one of his pupils). It is one of the composer’s early Viennese concertos. The concerto features the usual three movements:
The pianist Piotr Anderszewski conducted the Mozart piano concerti while seated at the Steinway D-274. The lid was fully open, so almost certainly, he could not keep exe contact with the entire orchestra. His direction, though, mostly consisted of rough tempo indications, key notes in phrases, and the like. For the rest, he could count on help by the concert master and other musicians in the orchestra.
Some general impressions for starting: it was a performance characterized by the modern concert grand—with all the limitations that this imposes—for details see below. On top of that, Anderszewski did not even try / show traces of continuo playing—be it only with the left hand—in orchestral segments, when there is no piano part in the score. On top of that, the pianist declined himself any extras—there were (virtually) no additional ornaments. And, of course, the performance on the Steinway lacked all the richness in colors that historic instruments would offer. But OK, a fortepiano in a big concert hall comes with its own share of problems.
In the comments below, I’ll focus on the solo part.
I found Anderszewski’s solo to be light, smooth, careful,. and dynamically differentiated. The playing was atmospheric, lyrical. Even though the articulation was careful, there was rather limited differentiation, and the pianist used very little agogics (mostly in the development part), let alone anything close to Klangrede, i.e., agogic differentiation at the level of motifs. Overall, I found his playing to be smooth, but clearly moderated by the modern instrument. In a way, I felt sorry for the soloist: some of the subtleties in his playing were equalized (at least in sound colors) by the instrument, to a degree which almost precluded more differentiation. The cadenza was Mozart’s own (the longer of two alternatives).
The orchestral introduction was careful, the tempo rather slow—at best, an Andante in quavers. The solo was very subtle and atmospheric, up to dreamy at times, the keyboard touch very refined. Yet, the solo part also sounded somewhat uniform, the subtlety almost exaggerated (e.g., in the cadenzas). Was this a consequence of the slow tempo?
Here, Anderszewski’s conducting was really minimal—he relied upon the concert master. I noted the careful dynamics in the p and sotto voce in the orchestra. The tempo was lively, though the pianist often subtly increased the pace for the solos (e.g., in the second solo, when the left hand suddenly changes to a virtuosic semiquaver staccato). I did like the length of the fermatas (those without cadenza, that is), especially towards the end of the movement.
So far, this was the movement with the liveliest tempo alterations, the most extroverted segment, if we can call it that way. In parts, the instrument is to blame for the lack of colors, of liveliness in expression, the overall uniformity of sound. At the same time, one can clearly see from the many cadenzas in this concerto that Mozart wrote it for himself, to “make himself look good” in concert, to show off his abilities as pianist and virtuoso. From that point-of-view, I think that Anderszewski’s playing was too smooth, too subtle, often too introverted—it lacked the “virtuosic show”.
Schreker: Intermezzo in F♯ minor for String Orchestra, op.8
Franz Schreker (1878 – 1934) is an Austrian composer, conductor, teacher, and administrator. He was born in Monaco, spent his early youth mostly traveling with the family (his father was court photographer). 1888, his family moved from Linz to Vienna, where Franz Schreker received his musical education from the conservatory, graduating as a composer in 1900. His Intermezzo in F♯ minor for string orchestra, op.8 is a composition from that same year 1900. It was Schreker’s first success as a composer. He later incorporated this into his Romantic Suite, op.11, from 1903.
For the rest of his life, Schreker was mostly known as composer of operas. His first opera is from 1901 / 1902—the years after he completed the Intermezzo. He did compose a series of other orchestral works, though. There are also very few chamber music works by Schreker, and some choral works. In his main works, Schreker is said to be influenced by Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) and Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883), although he definitely acquired a highly personal musical (harmonic) language.
As a conductor, Schreker certainly also came into close contact with (works by) Arnold Schönberg (1874 – 1951) and Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871 – 1942). I don’t know whether this played a role for the early Intermezzo in F♯ minor from 1900. It did remotely remind me of Schönberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” (Transfigured night), op.4, from 1899.
The Intermezzo is a short, atmospheric piece of some 7 minutes, entirely tonal. Sure, it’s not the greatest masterwork of its time—how could it be: the composer just finished his musical education! Still, it’s not bad music either.
An Audiovisual Experience
I wonder whether the orchestra meant to “enhance” the music by making this an audiovisual experience? Or was someone trying to find a concert application for music animation / visualization software? What the audience saw on a huge screen behind the orchestra was essentially an abstract version of the score, a moving pitch-vs.-time diagram, similar to what one finds in some YouTube videos. The author / software used colors to enrich the abstract experience, and intensity / “blob size” to indicate dynamics.
I personally think that for the average listener, this added very little, if any, value other than entertainment and distraction from the music. And the latter I would find a pity, as it is truly atmospheric music that (I think) is best enjoyed as an immersive musical experience: a true Intermezzo in the best sense of the word. The only, one thing most listeners will have taken from the visuals is, that the piece is in [ A (orange tones)—B (steel blue)—A ] form, which is fairly obvious anyway, also without illustration. For the rest, the projection just distracted from the music, hence was largely an unnecessary addition / effort.
Two years after he wrote the “little” A major concerto, K.414, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) was at the peak of his career as a pianist. This found its expression in a large series of piano concerti (K.449, K.450, K.451, K.453, K.456, K.459, K.466, K.467, K.482, K.488, K.491, K.503), which Mozart mostly wrote for his own use. The Piano Concerto No.17 in G major, K.453, was first performed 1784. The G major concerto also comes in three movements:
- Allegretto — Finale: Presto
I have written a detailed comparison of several recordings of this concerto, so won’t elaborate on the work and its history.
My remarks about Anderszewski’s performance in the G major concerto are very similar to those on the concerto K.414 in A major, see above. Apart from rare, minor incidents (missed keys), one could hardly pinpoint factual errors / mistakes (unless one took the absence of continuo playing as such). In both concerti, soloist and orchestra cooperated carefully, harmoniously, and with mutual attention.
Also here, both the orchestra, as well as the solo part would have greatly profited from agogic variation. Neither in the orchestra, nor in the solo part, there were any extras (other than some mishaps in the solo part), the latter was again too smooth overall, and lacking color. It seemed that dynamic impulses came from the orchestra rather than from the soloist, and dynamically, the orchestra was both more differentiated and more active. One of the best moments was the dialog of the piano with the bassoon in bars 284ff. The cadenza was the first one (the “standard choice”) of two that the composer wrote for this movement (published under K.624).
The tempo in this movement is that of traditional, romantic interpretations, e.g., from the middle of the last century: celebrated, very / too slow for an Andante in 3/4 time. One could call this a “piano-centric” performance, in that the soloist had plenty of time to play out and enjoy his cantilenas. At the same time, the melodies in the wind instruments felt overstretched. Also, the slow tempo gave too much weight to ornaments in the solo part, and some of the fermatas (as well as the cadenza) were far too long & romantic.
III. Allegretto — Finale: Presto
The third movement turned into a joyful last dance. I didn’t quite understand, though, why the acciaccaturas in the theme (violins, later also in the solo part) were turned into accents. Despite the lively tempo, this made the theme feel slightly clumsy, rather than (presumably) elegant. Also, the overall fast pace caused a certain superficiality in the fast notes, both in the orchestra, as well as in the solo part.
The Allegretto was swift already—hence, almost inevitably, the Presto ended up so fast that differentiation, especially in the small note values, was virtually impossible, both in the orchestra, as well as in the solo part. However, overall, this last movement came closest to how I picture a performance by the composer, in terms of character (albeit not in color).
Encore — Beethoven: Nr.1 from the 6 Bagatellen for Piano, op.126
Back in its time, Mozart’s Finale was a pezzo di bravura—and that’s how the composition worked on this audience, asking for applause. In response to that, Piotr Anderszewski turned to one of the last compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827). From the 6 Bagatellen for Piano, op.126 he played the first one: Bagatelle No.1 in G major (Andante con moto, Cantabile e compiacevole — L’istesso tempo). It’s calm, pensive / reflective music, definitely cantabile and most pleasurable, just what Beethoven annotated: was it even the best part of the evening? Anderszewski had played this very same Bagatelle as first encore in his solo recital in Zurich, on 2017-05-30.
The ZKO has recorded all of Haydn’s Paris Symphonies on CD:
Sir Roger Norrington — Zurich Chamber Orchestra
Sony classical 888 750 213 32 (3 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 2015
Booklet: 12 pp. en/de
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—
- Symphony No.87 in A major — total duration: 27’04”
- Vivace (10’07”)
- Adagio (6’18”)
- Menuetto (4’13”)
- Finale: Vivace (6’21”)
- Symphony No.85 in B♭ major, La Reine de France (“The Queen of France”) — total duration: 22’46”
- Allegro vivace (10’34”)
- Romance: Allegretto (4’51”)
- Menuetto: Allegretto (4’05”)
- Finale: Presto (3’17”)
- Symphony No.83 in G minor, La Poule (“The Hen”) — total duration: 29’13”
- Allegro spiritoso (10’23”)
- Andante (9’01”)
- Menuetto: Allegretto (4’00”)
- Finale: Vivace (5’45”)
- Symphony No.84 in E♭ major — total duration: 26’12”
- Largo — Allegro (10’18”)
- Andante (6’31”)
- Menuetto: Allegretto (3’16”)
- Finale: Vivace (6’07”)
- Symphony No.86 in D major — total duration: 30’19”
- Adagio — Allegro spiritoso (11’28”)
- Capriccio: Largo (7’32”)
- Menuet: Allegretto — Trio (5’26”)
- Finale: Allegro con spirito (5’48”)
- Symphony No.82 in C major, L’Ours (“The Bear”) — total duration: 29’31”
- Vivace assai (11’11”)
- Allegretto (6’01”)
- Menuet — Trio (4’46”)
- Finale: Vivace (7’30”)
I have not reviewed these CDs in detail, but based on my past experience with Norrington conducting the ZKO, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase this set again.
For this concert I have also written a (shorter) review in German for Bachtrack. This posting is not a translation of that German review, the rights of which remain with Bachtrack. I created the German review using a subset of the notes taken during this concert. I wanted to enable my non-German speaking readers to read about my concert experience as well. Therefore, I have taken my original notes as a loose basis for this separate posting. I’m including additional material that is not present in the Bachtrack review.