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Steven Isserlis evokes with an exquisite Elgar Concerto in Vancouver – Seen and Heard Worldwide

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CanadaCanada Miller, Elgar, Bruckner: Steven Isserlis (cello), Vancouver Symphony Orchestra / Otto Tausk (conductor). Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, 24.11.2023. (GN)

Steven Isserlis, Otto Tausk and the VSO © Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Cassandra MillerLa Donna
Elgar – Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
Bruckner – Symphony No.7 in E main, WAB 107

Esteemed British cellist Steven Isserlis final appeared in Vancouver in 2015, when he gave penetrating accounts of the whole Beethoven Cello Sonatas with fortepianist Robert Levin. The present go to featured the Elgar Cello concerto, and Isserlis’ efficiency was gorgeous: very important and animated, but filled with tender repose, probably discovering a higher vary of emotions than beforehand. The Elgar might need match effectively with the radiant tenderness and grandeur of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, however Maestro Tausk didn’t be wooed by this prospect. He settled for a streamlined method to the symphony, primarily showcasing the self-discipline of the orchestra and the ability of the brass in climaxes. The opening experimental piece, La Donna (2021) by native composer Cassandra Miller (who now lives now in London), was a extra fascinating journey.

Steven Isserlis has carried out the Elgar concerto constantly over the previous forty years, recording it in 1988 for Virgin and 2016 for Hyperion. The sooner one was an intimate, tender efficiency of the work – which stays particular – however it’s probably chargeable for his popularity as placing forth an ‘outdated man’s’ view of it. This was not substantiated right here. The cellist penetrates the work’s fragility, remorse and sense of weariness with nice feeling, however he integrates this with extra assertive and visceral responses to the composer’s perceived circumstance, making the emotional vary wider and extra complicated. A key ingredient is Isserlis’s eager consciousness of the structure and line of the piece, which permits each varieties of response to be united in a concentrated method. The result’s rather more than a recollection in tranquility.

There was no scarcity of poignant taking part in within the noble opening motion, however one instantly observed that Isserlis’ phrasing was by no means uniform – even essentially the most inward lyrical line was shifting someplace, typically punctuated by just a little bulge in phrase that gave the impression to be reaching for one thing. For all of the elegant plasticity of phrase, there was additionally a way of urgency in sure passages, articulated with reducing thrust. One thing fairly unsettled was recognized right here. This was amplified extra absolutely within the following Scherzo, the place one noticed how skittish it was, the cello’s descending runs delivered with a giddy, nearly manic frenzy. As all the time, Isserlis was utterly at house within the Adagio, ravishing in his diverse shadings and whispers and settling completely into its stillness. The finale returned to the fray, Isserlis somber and inward at one second but hurtling forth the subsequent, exhibiting simply the best sort of willpower and resolve to complete the emotional journey.

This was a splendidly full efficiency of the Elgar and ranks with the perfect (which incorporates Jacqueline du Pré’s basic account). Otto Tausk gave a conscientious account of the orchestral half, although he might need been too loud in parts of the finale, and a few of his dramatic accents appeared barely too showy for the composer.

Cassandra Miller’s La Donna was impressed by the casual but florid, Trallalero-style singing that was heard recurrently close to the docks of Genoa. It derives from a transcription of ‘La partenza da Parigi’ as recorded by Alan Lomax in 1954, however tries to dissect and amplify its contents. The opening of the work is loud and wild, the brass taking up the singing position, filled with swoops and slides, with maybe the identical sense of event and urgency one finds originally of Monteverdi’s Vespers. The strings accompany, typically including a way of marvel to the proceedings, however are finally topic to the identical slides and distortions because the brass. The primary a part of the work carries this on utilizing only a few tonal centres, nevertheless it maintains synergy and an fascinating complexity in brass strains: whooping horns even get their due. The complexity and diverse dynamics derive from the chance that there are a lot of teams of (uncoordinated) singers in proximity, so one could be simply ending a chunk whereas one other is beginning it, or one group could also be gentle whereas the opposite is loud, and so forth. Typically just one voice stays singing.

I loved this a part of the experiment, however what adopted appeared tougher to deliver off, since it’s so quiet and prolonged. A now-loaded boat has departed (probably with a liked one aboard) and is watched from the dock because it slowly disappears into the horizon. After the sooner carnival of sound, there may be now a sense of removing, maybe melancholy, embodied in a repeated three-note sequence that will get softer and softer. The music should be suspended nearly in a timeless mist, however except one has an unremitting dedication to items as diverse as ‘Frequent Tones in Easy Time’ by John Adams or the opening of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, it could actually outstay its welcome. I believe it did right here: eight minutes is a very long time to listen to the identical be aware sequence time and again, even when the tonal facilities from which the work started had been carried over. Maybe a fleeting allusion to the cacophony of the opening would have yielded extra selection. Nonetheless, Miller’s writing is communicative and might contact actual feelings past the methods she makes use of.

Otto Tausk first launched into the Bruckner symphonies with the VSO in 2019, performing the composer’s common No.4, ‘Romantic’. The end result was a fairly uncomfortable absorption of the composer’s idiom, not notably effectively performed, and it tended to hunt energy over poetry. As I wrote then, ‘The conductor aimed to exhibit the ability within the work with out fairly realizing that the success of its majestic brass climaxes is dependent upon how skillfully one achieves an natural stream and suspends its quieter moments of area and contemplation. Tausk all the time needed to tighten the lyrical episodes, not sit with their magnificence, and the consequence was that his phrases had been too brief and flat to permit a very Brucknerian romantic line. The end result was kind of a generic romanticism interspersed by climaxes’.

The main advantage of the present efficiency of No.7 is that it was higher performed. The conductor should be complimented on what he has accomplished with the orchestra because the pandemic. Nonetheless, the above feedback nonetheless apply, and maybe with higher pressure because the Seventh is a extra far-reaching symphony. The end result right here gave the impression to be a glamourized, virtuoso Bruckner No.7, failing to mine its lyrical breadth and radiant magnificence, or to indicate empathy with the composer’s expressive make-up.

The opening motion proceeded at a velocity sooner than I’ve ever heard, surprisingly taking the work again to the structural tightness that one finds in his Symphony No.1 and ‘Die Nulle’. The end result was like getting glimpses of all of the work’s engaging hills, valleys and enchanting peasant villages from an adjoining expressway. Moreover, the whole lot was set within the gentle of day: the poignant, upward-reaching cello theme which begins the journey off was so loud that it utterly swamped the violin tremolo that should mesh with it. The good Adagio was equally purposive, beginning at sturdy volumes with the richest, most luxuriant string textures, constructing to its supreme climax with the cymbal crash (the Nowak version was used). Certainly, whereas the motion pays homage to Wagner’s demise and employs Wagner tubas, right here it sounded prefer it was really written by Wagner, not the humbler Bruckner.

The rollicking Scherzo, probably depicting a captivating, open-air peasant dance, was taken at a headlong tempo, with virtuoso zeal and overdramatized timpani driving it to an nearly macabre end. The finale geared toward cinematics too, turning the beguiling whim and caprice of its central theme right into a string ‘serenade’ set between the daring brass punctuations. For a Dutch conductor, I’m stunned that so little of the Concertgebouw custom, and the interpretations of Bernard Haitink and Eduard van Beinum, have rubbed off on Tausk.

Geoffrey Newman

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