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April 2013

Jonathan Biss and Elias String Quartet Come Together at Carnegie Hall

by Melanie Wong


Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega

Last week on the intimate stage of Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, Jonathan Biss, in collaboration with the Elias String Quartet, explored the role of the piano within a chamber-music setting. A prominent North American soloist in his own right, Biss and ESQ have maintained a musical friendship, recently recording an album of Schumann and Dvořák quintets together.

The program opened with a perfectly executed chamber rendition of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 13. While incredibly light and stylistic, Biss’s performance of the Mozart lacked some presence and the overall dynamics left the audience wanting; while the pianissimos were incredible, the forte sections were far less grand than they could have been. Biss used the soft pedal throughout, an artistic choice that allowed for extreme control over the instrument, but greatly dampened the sound. The soft and simple second movement, however, was delivered with great nuance.

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Dresden Staastkapelle Perform Bruckner 8 at Carnegie Hall

Dresdesn Staatskapelle, Carnegie Hall

"I can’t imagine any list of the world’s great orchestras without the Dresden Staatskapelle at or near the top." — Nikolai Zander

It goes without saying that Germany has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to world-class orchestras. Beyond what is arguably the world's greatest orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, there is the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin—all regularly ranked among the greatest orchestras in the world.

And then there is the Dresden Staatskapelle, founded in 1548 as the court orchestra for the Elector of Saxony. Beyond its distinctive, dark-wooden sound, the Staatskapelle is famous for its association with composers such as Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, both of whom led the orchestra and premiered many of their operas with them. (Wagner used to refer to the Staatskapelle as his "golden harp.") The orchestra is also famous for being a favorite of conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Sir Colin Davis, and Herbert von Karajan, all of whom who helped maintain and shape the orchestra's brilliant sound.

Last summer, the Dresden baton was passed to Christian Thielemann: a Berlin native who, despite being rarely seen on these shores, has long been the poster boy for Teutonic music. In addition to heavy speculation that he'll succeed Simon Rattle in Berlin when he retires in 2018, Thielemann, 53, has been the musical advisor to the Bayreuth Festival since 2010, where he'll lead a special concert on the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth next month. (I'll be there.)

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Christian Thielemann Leads Staatskapelle Dresden in All-Brahms Program

by Michael Cirigliano II

Staatskapelle Dresden, Carnegie Hall, Feast of Music, Batiashvili

Photo credit: Matthias Creutziger

After a rash of heavy, Mahlerian programming from many of the touring orchestras passing through Carnegie Hall this winter, it was incredibly inviting to see conductor Christian Thielemann bring the Staatskapelle Dresden to the American stage for an intimate evening of Brahms. Although the program’s three works only span seven years during the composer’s late period, the tone of each work showcased the rich diversity of Brahms’ character, encompassing the drunken revelry of the Academic Festival Overture, the never-ending lyrical flow of the Violin Concerto, and the staunch formalism of the Fourth Symphony.

After winning over the Mostly Mozart Festival audience last summer with a pristine performance of Beethoven’s seminal Violin Concerto, Lisa Batiashvili returned to New York with a completely different temperament in hand for the Brahms. Although there were a number of similarly elegant moments across the two works for the soloist to display a delicate and mature sense of phrasing and color variation, there was a heightened sense of drama and aggression delivered in the Brahms, from double-stopped minor-key marches to the finale’s fiery gypsy dance and bold choice of the timpani-heavy Ferruccio Busoni cadenza.

Even from the violin’s first entrance after the orchestral exposition, Batiashvili was ready to take charge, and the initial phrase’s wide-ranging melodic span and impeccable intonation stopped the orchestra in its tracks. Communicating closely with Thielemann throughout the work, Batiashvili exhibited a great amount of freedom within her lines—creating many improvisatory gestures that never veered outside of the orchestra’s solid metric framework. Every contour was organically phrased, especially in the central Adagio, where the soloist and oboist Céline Moinet traded captivating performances of the tender and iconic principal melody.

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