Wagner: Lohengrin: Prelude to Act I
Schumann: Cello Concerto
Wagner: Lohengrin: Prelude to Act III
Schumann: Symphony No. 3 ‘Rhenish’
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Kirill Karabits conductor
Steven Isserlis cello
NO love was lost between Wagner and Schumann, who both found themselves in Dresden in 1849. Broadly, Wagner was the revolutionary in music, and Schumann the conservative, continuing to write concertos and symphonies while Wagner was re-inventing the whole purpose and form of opera. And this antipathy extended to politics, with Wagner enthusiastically joining in the failed revolt against the King of Saxony and having to flee into exile, while Schumann quietly got on with his musical career.
The two Lohengrin preludes, first performed the next year in 1850, show Wagner at his most striking and accessible; everybody recognises the famous tune from the Act III prelude, even if they’ve never heard of Wagner.
The two Schumann pieces which made up the bulk of the concert were written in rapid succession in Düsseldorf in the autumn of 1850. The Cello Concerto, an intimate, unshowy piece with little opportunity for virtuoso swagger, was never performed in Schumann’s lifetime, although it has more recently taken its place alongside the Dvořák and Elgar concerti in the repertoire. The more extrovert, tuneful and accessible ‘Rhenish’ symphony, however, was an immediate success and its popularity has never waned.
The Act I Prelude to Lohengrin started the programme, with the violins playing very high and very quietly. The piece consists of a slow rising up and dying down over its 8-minute length, and the climax saw the first telling contribution of the evening of the BSO’s wonderful deep brass section, two trombones, bass trombone and Andy Cresci’s ever-reliable tuba. Superb brass playing, including the trumpets and horns, was for me a stand-out feature of the concert, especially in the brief but glorious Act III Prelude after the interval.
Cellist Steven Isserlis is a regular favourite soloist with the orchestra, and tonight his playing had a rapt, intimate, meditative quality perfectly attuned to Schumann’s concerto. We had the illusion of not so much being performed to as overhearing the innermost thoughts and feeling of the performer. Karabits’s control of the balance and dynamics of the orchestral accompaniment was beautifully judged. For an encore, Isserlis played Tchaikovsky’s own setting of the expressive Andante Cantabile from his 1st string quartet, with the BSO strings accompanying him. For the second week running we had a collaborative encore: I hope the players are on overtime rates!
Karabits took the final piece on the programme, Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ symphony, at a fair old lick, with the Rhine in full spate rather than rolling majestically. I missed being able to relish details, the warmth and geniality of this music: favourite moments flashed by rather than registered. The exception was the sonorous and spacious fourth movement, evocative of Cologne Cathedral, and featuring again the ever-impressive brass players.