Mention the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and good vibrations arise. Here is a
musical organization whose very name suggests longevity (210 years, in fact),
distinguished bloodlines (Felix Mendelssohn was one of its conductors) and
adherence to solid, middle-class virtues. (The Gewandhaus was the home of
Leipzig’s fabric merchants, and it once housed a concert hall as well.)
Current conditions bear out these virtues. Kurt Masur, its conductor for the
past 21 years, is known for his solid, middle-of-the-road recordings of the
most respected classical masters. Inevitably, he has recorded the Beethoven
Nine, and these performances are correct as correct can be. On top of all that,
he cuts a handsome figure, conducts most of his repertory from memory, and
gives off a most statesmanlike aura. New York, of whose Philharmonic he is
conductor-designate, will gobble him up after its years with the erratic Zubin.
“Erratic” and Kurt Masur are strangers to one another.
That being so, this report on Tuesday’s concert at the Music Center, the second
of three appearances by Masur and his orchestra in our midst these past few
days, ought to give off clouds of praise. It cannot, however. It wasn’t an
awful concert, just a dull one. Drowning as we are in the surfeit of Prokofiev
in this 100th birthday year, did we need another round of “Romeo and Juliet”
cuttings? Masur’s half-a-program’s-worth of excerpts may have included material
left out of the usual suites, but his orchestra’s strings were no match for the
passionate declamation of this ballet’s great moments. The music simply did not
The evening’s novelty, at least in name, was Hans Werner Henze’s “Seven Love
Songs,” a kind of anti-concerto for solo cello and large orchestra, its
inspiration drawn from English poems which, however, the composer declines to
name. There is nothing in it less than proficient. The orchestral palette is
vast, although sometimes to the point of overpowering the soloist. The style is
basic Henze: an eclectic mix, some Stravinsky, some merely generic-trendy-mod.
Henze’s stage works are brilliant, teeming with personality, even personal
rage. The blandness of this orchestral work, despite the eloquent pleading of
cellist Jurnjakob Timm and the orchestra, make it all the clearer that Henze’s
music is at its happiest when built around a text.
All this faceless music should have made the final work, Strauss’ perennial
“Till Eulenspiegel,” more than usually welcome. But where was the humor in
the work, the scamper, the blowsy tongue-in-cheek vulgarity? The performance
was merely careful. Even the solo horn sounded timid. Yet the crowd cheered on
and on, and for their trouble they got a reprise of the last moments of
“Till,” torn bleeding out of context. Is that any way to treat a tone