Lucienne Renaudin Vary, Isata Kanneh-Mason
Ruth Reinhardt / Tonhalle Orchestra
Clara Wieck / Hummel / Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Tonhalle am See, Zurich, 2022-03-02

0.5-star rating

2022-03-12 — Original posting (concert photos may be added later)
2022-03-15 — Concert photos added (© Thomas Entzeroth / Orpheum Foundation)



Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeTonhalle am See, Zurich, 2022-03-02 19:30h
Series / TitleYoung Soloists On Stage — Orpheum Foundation
OrganizerOrpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists
Müller-Möhl Foundation
PR Agency: 2Dream Productions
Reviews from related eventsEarlier Concerts organized by the Orpheum Foundation
Earlier Concerts with Support by the Müller-Möhl Foundation
Previous duo recital with Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason (2018-12-11)

Over the past years, I have written numerous times about concerts organized by the Orpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists. I’m not repeating a detailed description of that organization, which has long been an essential part of Zurich’s music life. Information on the Foundation can be found on their Website and in my previous reviews (see the links above).


Isata Kanneh-Mason, Ruth Reinhardt, Lucienne Renaudin Vary @ Tonhalle Zurich, 2022-03-02
Isata Kanneh-Mason, Ruth Reinhardt, Lucienne Renaudin Vary @ Tonhalle Zurich, 2022-03-02
(© Thomas Entzeroth / Orpheum Foundation)

Supporting Women in Music

Among the concerts that I reviewed, two of the Orpheum events stood out. In both, the Orpheum Foundation teamed up with a second organization, the Müller-Möhl Foundation, which emerged in 2012. That latter organization focuses on

  • Education (early child care & education, the future of education, financial literacy).
  • Gender Equality (job & family, gender diversity, women returning to work) in politics, culture, and business.
  • Promotion Activities (Switzerland as location for businesses and foundations, philanthropy, emerging businesses).

It’s the topic of gender equality, the support for a more equal representation of women in music that led to this “joint venture”.

The “script” for this concert was pretty much identical to the one on 2020-03-04:

  • The initial presentation by leading exponents of the two foundations. It featured Carolina Müller-Möhl (president, Müller-Möhl Foundation), and Claudia Coninx-Kaczynski (vice president, Orpheum Foundation).
  • The female conductor,
  • The two female soloists,
  • The participation of the Tonhalle Orchestra, as well as
  • The structure of the program, see below.

The Artist(s)

The Soloists

As in most Orpheum concerts, the foundation presented two young artists that currently are receiving support by the Foundation:

Conductor & Orchestra

For this concert, as already in the concert on 2020-03-04, the Orpheum Foundation employed the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich (see also Wikipedia). This orchestra certainly does not need to be introduced.

Sadly, the originally announced conductor, the Italian Speranza Scappucci (*1973, see also Wikipedia), had to cancel her participation for health reasons. At very short notice, the Foundation found a replacement, who was willing to step in with the same program. A female conductor, of course:

Ruth Reinhardt (*1988, see also the German Wikipedia) grew up in Saarbrücken. At the age of 6, she started studying violin, later, she added oboe. When she was 12, she already performed as member of a string quartet. At 15, she was oboist in a youth orchestra. As she could not perform due to a cold, she tried conducting. This instantly caught her interest. Once she finished high school, she started professional studies (violin and conducting) at the ZHdK (Zurich University of the Arts). Her studies then took her to the Hochschule für Musik und Theater „Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy“ Leipzig, then further on to the Juillard School of Music in New York City. Since 2018, Ruth Reinhardt mainly works as freelance conductor in the U.S., and throughout Europe.


Program

The program consisted of two instrumental concertos, followed by an orchestral work:

The last-minute change in conductor forced the organizers to drop the introductory work by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s elder sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805 – 1847): the Overture in C major from 1832. In compensation for the omission, the two soloists had the opportunity to present an encore.


Setting, etc.

My seat was #18 in row #21 in the rear block of the parquet seating. The concert was essentially sold out.


Concert & Review

Clara Schumann Wieck, c. 1853
Clara Schumann Wieck, c.1853

Clara Wieck: Piano Concerto in A minor, op.7

Composer & Work

Clara Wieck (1819 – 1896, later to become Clara Schumann-Wieck) was 16 when she completed her
Piano Concerto in A minor, op.7 (1835). At that time, she already was an accomplished pianist, educated by her ambitious father. And she was making international tours as a soloist. The concerto has three movements:

  1. Allegro maestoso
  2. Romanze: Andante non troppo con grazia
  3. Finale: Allegro non troppo — Allegro molto

Clara Wieck premiered the concerto in 1835 with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. The Wikipedia entry talks rather favorably about the concerto, quoting reviewer who went as far as comparing it to the piano concertos by Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849).

In contrast to this, the program notes refer to a contemporary, anonymous critique, which the composer copied into her diary. It lauded the pianist, while being undecided about Clara’s talent as composer. The critic states that connoisseurs and impartials denied applauding the work, as it “isn’t a whole, but only fragmentary. And using (show) effects does not imply originality”. The critic ended by recommending not to publish the composition.

The Performance

For the concertos, the Tonhalle Orchestra performed in a reduced configuration, with around 8 + 8 violins, 7 (?) violas, 6 cellos, 4 double basses. Counting the musicians was difficult from my position. Both violin groups were placed on the left-hand side. They were followed by the violas, the cellos on the right, double basses on the rear right-hand side. From the number of familiar faces, I suspect that the orchestra consisted of the secondary staff mainly. The configuration was not available from the program booklet. The soloist’s instrument was a Steinway D-274 concert grand.

Over the recent years, Isata Kanneh-Mason and her siblings have received vast amounts of publicity. Therefore, it was not surprising to see her enter the podium without stage fright.

I. Allegro maestoso

The concerto starts without real introduction, but with the orchestra presenting a simple, 4 + 4 bar theme. This essentially repeats itself a minor third up—with some alterations, though. In bar 17, the piano enters the scene—not with the theme or a theme on its own. Rather, with two simple ascending scales in triple-octave parallels (another Schusterfleck, as Germans would put it). This is followed by two broken chords in contrariwise octave parallels in both hands. After this, the orchestra concludes the first part. I’m not sure whether one can call this an exposition. It is not repeated, its relatively thin thematic material is barely used thereafter.

What follows is a long solo of almost 100 bars. There is very scarce orchestral accompaniment (mostly in the strings, with few interjections by individual woodwind voices). That solo works with new thematic material. From around bar 40 onwards, a segment appears to quote almost directly from Chopin’s piano concertos. I guess that is why some critics compared the work to these!

Weaknesses in the Composition?

The long solo culminates in a ff climax and a cascading scale in triple-octave parallels. The orchestra adds a short closing section, quoting motifs from the introduction. The cello adds a short, 4-bar recitative-like segment, ritenuto, ritardando. The piano takes this up in a simple, ascending broken chord across the keyboard (Adagio, a piacere senza tempo). A fermata leads into the second movement (attacca).

The piano part is technically interesting, certainly includes virtuosic challenges. However, there is little, if any thematic development. It’s more of a rich chain of short (typically 4-bar) ideas. And whenever Clara Wieck introduces a new “theme”, she instantly repeats it, before switching to the next idea. Themes may return at some point. However, they aren’t “sticky” enough for the listener to remember. The one exception to this is a two-bar, ascending Leitmotif from the very beginning. This recurs throughout the movement. One ends up with a kaleidoscope of ideas. There is little to hold these together, other than the key of A minor. And the one Leitmotif that I just mentioned.

Solo performance

Despite all that criticism about the composition, the actual performance was certainly interesting. In interviews, Isata Kanneh-Mason explained that she likes the concerto. She stated that it suits her well, allowing her to demonstrate a broad spectrum of expressions (I’m quoting from memory). With its many facets, the variety of motifs and short thematic elements, it indeed covers a broad spectrum, primarily of techniques. Indeed, Isata Kanneh-Mason’s playing was effortless, the technique flawless, the articulation light and clear. I noted her differentiated dynamics, the excellent touch control, the expressive rubato and agogics.

II. Romanze: Andante non troppo con grazia

The Romanze consists of a long solo in the first part. The piano is then joined by the solo cello (Paul Handschke). In the final bars, the timpani add two pp rolls, which directly lead into the Finale. As a composition, it actually is a nice movement, very atmospheric. Chamber music, maybe a little too intimate for the context of a piano concerto?

The solo is a highly romantic nocturne of sorts, in 4/4 time. Isata Kanneh-Mason played with differentiated dynamics, gently swaying agogics, with expressive (but not exaggerated) rubato.

III. Finale: Allegro non troppo — Allegro molto

The last movement is not devoid of idiosyncrasies. However, it is the most coherent, virtuosic, pianistically often brilliant part of the concerto. It comes with actual themes, and it “closes” the composition by referring to melodic elements from the opening movement. And there are definitely challenges: intricate, virtuosic textures, brilliant, often highly original passage work.

Here, Isata Kanneh-Mason could demonstrate her agility, the precise touch, her technical brilliance, even physical strength. Congrats!

Overall Rating: ★★★½

As a composition, the opening movement clearly has limitations. While listening to it, I was questioning the choice of work for this concert. It felt as if this absolutely had to be a female composer, no matter what. Was this really the only viable piano concerto by a female composer? Actually, I concede that for the (early) romantic period, this may indeed be the case. And to this day, they remain a rarity, which is absolutely deplorable. There actually are very few concertos composed by women in the 20th century. However, I don’t know to what degree these would have been suited for the purpose of this concert.

I don’t mean to “destroy” this work. After all, it may well be that it was the soloist’s choice to perform Clara Wieck’s concerto. And the second movement is quite atmospheric, the Finale compensates for shortcomings in the Allegro maestoso. Still, the opening movement wasn’t ideal for presenting the pianist’s talent. And it wasn’t the ideal “launch piece” for the evening.


Piano Encore

Isata Kanneh-Mason presented an encore: an excellent, short Jazz improvisation. This definitely (also) is her world, with jazzy syncopes. In the pounding accents, she seemed to use her body weight: the impulses almost appeared to lift her off the piano bench. Brilliant!


Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Johann Nepomuk Hummel

Hummel: Trumpet Concerto in E♭ major (E major), WoO 1, S.49

Composer & Work

The Trumpet Concerto in E♭ major (E major), WoO 1, S.49 by the Austrian composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778 – 1837) is a work for the inventor of the keyed trumpet, Anton Weidinger (1766 – 1852). Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) also wrote his concerto for Weidinger. Note that the keyed trumpet was an instrument without valves. Rather, it had holes in the bore, which the artist closes using keys. Similar to, say, on a saxophone.

Premiered in 1804, Hummel’s concerto now is one of a few, central pieces in the rather limited repertoire of trumpet concertos. Originally written in E major, the concerto is usually (as here) performed in E♭ major. This makes it easier to perform on trumpets in E♭ or B♭. The composition features three movements:

  1. Allegro con spirito
  2. Andante
  3. Rondo: Allegro

The Performance

Lucienne Renaudin Vary entered the stage youthfully, unabashed. She was just as refreshing to watch as the first soloist. Next to the other musicians, she looked almost tiny. And she was walking on bare feet! Her girlish, short dress even reinforced that impression.

Lucienne Renaudin Vary’s instrument was of course not of the keyed type that the concerto was written for, but. She uses a modern valve trumpet, presumably in B♭. I suspect that the difference in sonority between keyed and valved trumpets is not essential here. However, the valved instrument definitely has an advantage in agility. Probably also in the response, i.e., the clarity in articulation and tonal transitions.

I. Allegro con spirito

Here now, we were in “familiar territory”. For the first time in this concert (and with the concert grand moved away), we could enjoy watching Ruth Reinhard’s lively, concise direction. And the orchestra exhibited a vibrant response, lively, differentiated dynamics, build-up of tension and suspense across the introduction. With the sudden change in atmosphere, the second theme initiated another, consequent build-up, with excellent coordination in the strings. It probably helped that the two violin voices performed next to each other!

From the beginning of the first solo, the audience was captured in watching Lucienne Renaudin Vary perform. Her unencumbered, spontaneous, free motions and body language fascinated. Typically she was holding her instrument up towards the center of the ceiling. In pauses, she often turned towards conductor and orchestra, even sometimes walked around a few steps: an effervescent musician! And her playing! Masterful, effortless, natural, flowing, mellow in the articulation, warm on the tone, the response always firm, secure, precise, flawless. Fascinating, for sure, as one could tell from the spontaneous applause that broke out in the short pause!
★★★★½

II. Andante

Here, Lucienne Renaudin Vary used mellow, gentle articulation, a flat tone, i.e., a hardly noticeable vibrato (if any at all). She demonstrated an amazingly long breath: lyrical, atmospheric, without the slightest attempt to show off! No quibbles at all?? No really not! If very rarely her voice set in a tiny split second early, this was virtually unnoticeable, certainly attributable to the youth of the artist!
★★★★

III. Rondo: Allegro

The last movement followed attacca. Fast, at the limits where the articulation still was possible and clean. It’s the soloist who sets the tempo, which occasionally even appeared to challenge the orchestra! The soloist’s performance was absolutely stunning! Highly agile, virtuosic, clear in the articulation of the semiquavers. Brilliant, never letting the pace slow down even a bit. Rather she even appeared to push for a faster pace towards the last section with its demisemiquaver figures.
★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Trumpet Encore

Needless to say that the audience was raving after the Hummel concerto. An encore was due here as well! Not a virtuoso piece this time, but a melancholic, lyrical improvisation. Mellow, beautiful tone, gentle, highly differentiated in dynamics: thanks a lot!


Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, by Edward Magnus, 1846
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, by Edward Magnus, 1846

Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Incidental Music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (excerpts)

Composer & Work

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847) completed his Incidental Music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, op.61, MWV M13 in 1842. It consists of 12 pieces. These include the famous Scherzo (No.1), Intermezzo (No.5), Notturno (No.7), the ubiquitous Hochzeitsmarsch (No.9), and Ein Tanz von Rüpeln (No.11). The 12 movements are complemented by an Overture in E major, op.21, MWV P3, and a Finale with choir. Mendelssohn completed the overture 16 years earlier, in 1826. It then was a concert overture, without association to a play. The highlighting below marks the pieces selected for this concert:

Overture, op.21

  1. Scherzo
  2. L’istesso tempo
  3. Lied mit Chor (Song with choir)
  4. Andante
  5. Intermezzo
  6. Allegro
  7. Con moto tranquillo (Notturno)
  8. Andante
  9. Hochzeitsmarsch (Wedding March)
  10. Marcia funebre
  11. Ein Tanz von Rüpeln (A dance of clowns)
  12. Allegro vivace come I

Finale (with choir)

The selected movements were performed in the order Overture — I. Scherzo — XI. A dance of clowns — IX. Wedding March.

The Performance

For Mendelssohn’s incidental music, the Tonhalle Orchestra now performed in a noticeably larger configuration, with around 10 + 10 violins. Both these were still placed on the left-hand side. They were followed by violas, cellos on the right, double basses on the rear right-hand side. As I noted right at the beginning, the orchestra configuration apparently consisted of the secondary staff only.

Overture, op.21

The opening of the overture: the stroke of a young genius! The calm, ascending sequence of chords in the wind instruments set the scene, the atmosphere. The following, whispering staccato quavers in four (!) violin voices (all pp) remained sotto voce, mysterious. Light, transparent, like far in a distance. It probably paid to have all violins on the left side of the podium. In an antiphonal setting, maintaining coordination in this would have been a real challenge.

Ruth Reinhardt kept the fluent pace also in the splendour of the ff part. She was able to maintain clarity. The conductor avoided romantic “excursions”, such as broadening at phrase highlights. Rather, she maintained the drive, the momentum. Actually, the trempo was at the point where the coordination in the string quaver sequences occasionally started to weaken. In the recap section, though, the precision in the strings improved noticeably. My only other quibble was in occasional, minor intonation issues in the brass section.

Ruth Reinhardt led the orchestra with harmonious, clear gestures and a lively body language. What I liked particularly was the conductor’s ability to make the overture a piece of real theater. It was the anticipation of a dramatic tale on stage, with a gentle ending, mysterious again—rising expectations. Hard to believe that this was composed as a stand-alone overture!
★★★½

I. Scherzo

A showpiece for the orchestra’s excellent woodwinds. In particular, of course, the flute: virtuosic, excellent! And the tempo was as fast as humanly possible, especially for the string sections. I liked the clarity, the structured dynamics, the persistent momentum throughout the movement.
★★★★

XI. Ein Tanz von Rüpeln (A Dance of Clowns)

The usual translation of this movement’s title, “A dance of clowns”, isn’t completely adequate. “Rüpel” are bullies, ruffians! In the Tonhalle Orchestra’s pounding accents, one could actually sense that this is meant to be more than a clownery.
★★★★

IX. Hochzeitsmarsch (Wedding March)

The interpretation of the Wedding March: fluent, brassy. Occasionally almost too brassy. Occasionally, I felt that trombones and tuba wer too prominent. Overall, the performance was refreshing, vibrant, colorful.

However, I can’t resist stating that as a composition, this is probably not among Mendelssohn’s top masterworks. Its excessive (ab)use in actual weddings by now makes this movement feel worn out, if not banal, mundane, commonplace.
★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★½

I do like the overture. Also the Scherzo is an excellent showpiece, and a typical orchestral encore. However, with the additions of “Dance of Clowns” and “Wedding March”, the orchestral conclusion of the concert felt a bit flat. A concession to popular demand?

Ruth Reinhardt, Tonhalle Orchestra @ Zurich, 2022-03-02
Ruth Reinhardt, Tonhalle Orchestra @ Zurich, 2022-03-02 (© Thomas Entzeroth / Orpheum Foundation)

A Postscript

Most Orpheum concerts include some moderation, e.g., to introduce the young soloists that perform with the support and under the tutelage of the Foundation. In this concert, as with the last one that was organized jointly with the Müller-Möhl Foundation, there was no moderator. Rather, leading exponents of the two Foundations gave a joint presentation. They presented the goals of their organizations, their relevance for this concert. That presentation of course included elements of self-promotion and mutual praise. The foundations are non-profit organizations and invest considerable efforts and funding for these concerts. Therefore, using the concert as platform to promote and propagate their goals is only natural.

Towards the end of the presentation, which lasted a little over 10 minutes, a man in the rear of the parquet apparently lost his nerves. He stood up and exclaimed that he did not come here for a mutual eulogy. He did that twice. And there were even a few people leaving the hall at that point.

I consider these rather rude, unfriendly acts. The fact that the concert was organized by these foundations was more than evident. The purpose of the presentation was understandable, its length and content comparable to the one in the previous, similar events. Some might say that the two speakers got carried away in their mutual commendation. But still, wasn’t there a more polite way to express criticism? Especially at a time when atrocious war crimes are taking place in Eastern Europe? After all, this was a concert in support of young artists, and of women in music!


Acknowledgements, Credits

The author would like to express his gratitude to

With the exception of the artists’ press images at the top (and the composers’ portraits), all photos are © Thomas Entzeroth, Zürich


If you have an opinion on this posting / page, please rate it (1 = dislike, 5 = best)

Average rating: / 5. Vote count:

Be the first to rate.

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?


AboutImpressum, LegalSite Policy | TestimonialsAcknowledgementsBlog Timeline
Typography, ConventionsWordPress Setup | Resources, ToolsPictures, Methods

Leave a reply—comments are welcome!