Vänskä became Music Director of
the Minnesota Orchestra in September 2003.
He is the latest in a distinguished line that
includes Ormandy, Mitropoulos and Dorati.
With the orchestra, Vänskä plans
a complete Beethoven cycle on BIS, so the
Fourth Symphony we heard on this occasion
was presumably much more of a ‘warm-up’ piece.
conductor (his characteristic gesture being
the ‘Vänskä crouch’ at sudden dynamic
drops), control was very much in evidence.
He actually counted the rests at the end of
the first movement introduction (few do) and
he had obviously thought long and hard about
orchestral balance. But there was nothing
really new here – in fact the predominant
impression was of a real ‘Middle-of–the-Road’
reading. Playing was generally excellent (the
high E flat entry of the horns in the slow
movement spot-on, for example) yet, until
the last movement, the spirit was lacking.
The Allegro vivace third movement was under-tempo,
precluding the element of dance and although
the woodwind was well-balanced in the Trio,
the violins’ descending scales lacked approachability
and wit. The finale came closest to a convincing
realisation. The hand of Haydn was close here,
and excitement made its belated arrival, antiphonally
placed violins making their presence felt.
imagine most of the audience, however, had
come for the Bartók. The soloists in
this instance were strong ones. Ildiko Komlosi
was a dark-hued Judith while Michele Kalmandi
made for a commanding Bluebeard (they have
actually appeared together on disc, too, in
Hungaroton’s recording of Respighi’s ‘mystery
play’ Maria Egiziaca on Hungaroton
HCD31118; Kalmandi has recorded Bluebeard
with the Baden State Orchestra under Günter
Neuhold on Bella Musica BM-CD319052). Kalmandi’s
focussed baritone and excellent diction made
for a compelling portrayal and complemented
Komlosi’s lush yet clear tone perfectly. Komlosi’s
most appealing attribute is probably her low
register, which retains a touch of hardness
just to give it an extra edge of depth. She
is capable of great lyricism (as when she
denies daylight for Bluebeard’s darkness)
and also of fully realising Bartók’s
wide leaps from one register into another.
Her attack was spot-on – if there is any real
criticism of her to be made it is that she
could have shrieked more at the opening of
the fifth door.
assumption of Bluebeard was obviously borne
of long association with this role. How else
could he have imbued the Lake of Tears scene
with such meaning? He could be imposing when
required (which is quite often), yet tender,
too. Only occasionally did an unwanted literalism
creep in (just prior to the Lake of Tears).
accompaniment was in many ways textbook in
his super-glued attendance to his soloists
and his care with the detail of Bartók’s
masterpiece, often realising the awe-inspiring
orchestration masterfully. Yet the end was
not as crushing as it can be precisely because
Vänskä had not built the piece as
a continuity with the end in sight from the
very beginning. A pity, as there was much
to admire along the way.
Whittall’s programme notes for Bluebeard,
by the way, were an absolute model of their
kind. Whittall brings his wealth of knowledge
to bear on this piece whilst not blinding
his readers. If only all notes were like this.