Prom 69: Cleveland Orchestra/Welser-Möst review – immaculate and perfectly engineered

Royal Albert Hall, London
This performance by one of the world’s great orchestras was never without interest, though sometimes there was too little substance to go with its style
Prom 68: Cleveland Orchestra/Welser-Möst review – mellow and expansive

The menu for both of the Cleveland Orchestra’s proms with their music director, Franz Welser-Möst, followed the same plan: the UK premiere of a major work by Jörg Widmann, the orchestra’s former composer-in-residence, between substantial slices of Brahms. The first concert paired Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture with his first symphony; the second began with his Tragic Overture and ended with the second symphony, but the audience was disappointingly small: the Albert Hall was barely half full for what was a rare London appearance by one of the world’s unquestionably great orchestras.

Welser-Möst’s Brahms is straightforward, unfussy, slightly detached. His unfolding of the second symphony was less driven than the first had seemed on the radio the previous evening. But with an orchestra whose rounded woodwind and refined strings can turn even a simple D major chord into a thing of glowing beauty, it was never without interest, though there is more introspection to seek out in the slow movement than this performance ever suggested. If it didn’t shed any new light on the work, it presented what we do know in an immaculate and perfectly engineered way.

Widmann’s Teufel Amor is all about immaculate engineering too; he describes it as a symphonic hymn. It was composed in 2009 and inspired by a two-line fragment of Schiller – all that anyone recalled of a hymn the poet and dramatist wrote when he was 22. It’s the starting point for a half-hour arc of music, beginning in the darkest depths of the orchestra and moving through a series of climaxes that seem to get more Mahlerian and Straussian as they go on, until everything ends with questioning uncertainty. All faultlessly plotted and played superbly by the Cleveland Orchestra, but an empty shell – just style and gesture with nothing inside.

• On BBC iPlayer until 7 October. The Proms continue until 13 September.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Prom 68: Cleveland Orchestra/Welser-Möst review – mellow and expansive
A Jörg Widmann premiere was sandwiched by jubilant but polite Brahms, writes Erica Jeal

Erica Jeal

09, Sep, 2014 @1:29 PM

Cleveland Orchestra/ Welser-Möst, Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall, London

George Hall

02, Sep, 2005 @11:17 AM

Article image
Prom 4: World Orchestra for Peace/Gergiev – review
The orchestra and increasingly controversial conductor's Mahler lost sight of structural tautness in a quest for emotional vividness, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

21, Jul, 2014 @12:09 PM

Article image
Prom 5: Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich review – sadness and celebration

David Zinman's final concert as chief conductor of the Zürich Tonhalle was a superb example of his intelligent musicianship, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

22, Jul, 2014 @12:26 PM

Cleveland Orchestra/Welser-Möst - review

Welser-Möst is very much at his ease in this repertoire, allowing it to unfold with a post-Mahlerian weight and logic, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

19, Aug, 2010 @9:01 PM

Article image
Prom 48: Iceland Symphony Orchestra review – energetic but imperfect debut
Erica Jeal: Iceland's relatively recently established symphony orchestra made its first Proms appearance with a selection of key Icelandic pieces, plus some Schumann and Beethoven

Erica Jeal

24, Aug, 2014 @2:59 PM

Article image
Prom 53: Budapest Festival Orchestra/Fischer review – beauty that obscured Brahms's muscle

This all-Brahms programmed showcased the orchestra's plush sound, but insights came at the price of momentum, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

27, Aug, 2014 @1:32 PM

Article image
Prom 50: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Bělohlávek/Weilerstein review – fluid and elegant

Dvořák's cello concerto showed Alisa Weilerstein and the orchestra in complete sympathy, writes Erica Jeal

Erica Jeal

25, Aug, 2014 @11:01 AM

Article image
Prom 21 review: John Wilson Orchestra/Kiss Me, Kate – uneasy Cole Porter semi-staging
If only the great John Wilson Orchestra had been given full rein with Cole Porter's music, instead of a tepid dramatisation, writes Michael Billington

Michael Billington

03, Aug, 2014 @2:37 PM

Article image
Prom 70: Scottish Chamber Orchestra/ Gernon review – 80th birthday gifts for Peter Maxwell Davies
The orchestra gave its former conductor a snazzy waistcoat and a Prom devoted to his beautiful Scottish pieces, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

11, Sep, 2014 @12:40 PM