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Seen and Heard International Concert Review



Honegger, Schumann, Nielsen: Gävle Symphony Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel (conductor), Katrine Gislinge (piano), Gävle Concert Hall, Sweden, 2.12.2005 (GF)



Honegger: Prelude pour La Tempete

Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54

Nielsen: Symphony No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 7



The Gävle Symphony Orchestra have really been on their toes lately when it comes to engaging young and thrilling conductors. A couple of months ago I wrote about a concert with the new chief-conductor-to-be, Robin Ticciati (see review). Now they have hooked 24-year-old Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, probably the hottest name among the youngest generation of conductors since his victory last year in the Bamberg Symphony’s Mahler competition. He hit the headlines in August when he stepped in at short notice for an ailing Neeme Järvi, conducting the Gothenburg SO at a Proms concert and he already has an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. He will make his debut with the Stockholm Philharmonic in mid-December but two concerts with the Gävle orchestra – in Västerås on Thursday and then in their home venue on Friday – seems to be his first appearances in Sweden.

A conductor’s first entrance is always a thrilling moment and more often than not the first-sight impression is confirmed by their approach to the music. Dudamel walked in, determinedly, somewhat impatiently, after a short bow entered the rostrum, a short glance at the orchestra and – here we go!

His choice of programme was not very predictable: it seems he has an inquisitive mind and, apart from the Schumann concerto, this was not what we hear every day, maybe not even every decade, in the concert hall. Three composers from three generations and in each case works from their relative youth. In the case of Schumann this is only half the truth, since the piano concerto was written by a mature composer, but the first sketches of what was originally a Fantasy in A minor can be traced back to 1839 when he was 29. Honegger was 31 when he wrote the incidental music for Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and Carl Nielsen had begun working on his first symphony in 1890, when he was 25. So it seems that Dudamel, himself a composer, intentionally or not had chosen compositions from his own age-group. His entrance was youthful and eager; his music making correspondingly. And the orchestra were certainly on their toes, responding willingly to maestro Dudamels intentions. Although provincial in the sense that they are not located to a major city like Stockholm or Gothenburg, there is nothing provincial about their playing. It is a middle-sized band but with homogenous string tone and excellent wind players, some of whom were also heard to good effect solo wise. Readers who will not be able to visit Gävle and judge by themselves are recommended to buy the recently issued disc with Franz Berwald’s Tone Poems on Naxos (see reviews: 1 and 2).

Honegger’s music is regrettably rarely encountered in the concert halls today. I can’t recall hearing anything by him performed live, not even in France, for the last twenty years. Still his is a very distinctive voice in post-WW1 orchestral music and his symphonies should be standard fare if there is any justice in this world. The short prelude to “The Tempest” – one of no less than 29 plays that he wrote music for – is a real opener. The listener is at once thrown into the turmoil caused by the powers of nature. It is aggressive, energetic music, graphically illustrating the howling winds, the thunder – there is a large percussion department engaged with the bass drum rumbling ominously – the rolling waves. There is little scope for interpretative delicacies; rhythmic precision is the key word and Dudamel, like a puppet-master, had all the strings in a firm grip to pull at the right moment. For modern ears, attuned to much latter day music, this was maybe not very forbidding but I suspect that the audience at Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris back in 1923 may have been taken aback. A thrilling opening it certainly was.

Schumann’s Piano Concerto introduced us to the Danish pianist Katrine Gislinge, who has an international career but has only appeared in Sweden on tour with a Danish symphony orchestra. She is in her mid-thirties and a mature artist who offered a very poetic reading of the concerto, reminding me of another poet of the piano, Hungarian Lili Kraus, whose recording of this concerto was my introduction to this music. Conductor and soloist seemed to be in agreement, since Dudamel managed to make the rather thick orchestration appear uncommonly translucent. It might have sounded something like this on period instruments in the mid-19th century. Springy rhythms in the outer movements kept the music alive, and if “poetic” gives the impression of a small-scale performance, that was definitely not the case. Even if this is not exactly a virtuoso concerto there are heavy technical demands on the soloist, especially in the last movement, and Katrine Gislinge met them with accuracy. The enthusiastic response from the audience rendered an encore, a nocturne by Chopin, which further emphasised her poetic credentials.

Carl Nielsen’s first symphony, certainly the least played of the six, is an exuberant piece, formally in G minor but starting in C major and also ending in that key with jubilant fanfares. Dudamel obviously relished in this youthful music, wallowing in the romantic ebb and flow of the outer movements and catching the blond Nordic melancholy of the middle movements, especially the andante in which one felt transported to a verdant summer meadow in Funen. The finale was whipped up into a near frenzy and it felt like the temperature in the hall rose several degrees. A flourish from the orchestra and standing ovations from the audience was audible and visible proof that both parties took Gustavo Dudamel to their hearts, and Dudamel, newly married just two weeks ago, shone like the Venezuelan sun. And for good reasons. On this hearing he seems to be destined for a great career and the management of the Gävle Symphony Orchestra must be congratulated for having caught such a golden fish.





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