Neeme's "final" concert in Detroit

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Neeme's "final" concert in Detroit

Post by C.B. » Wed Jun 15, 2005 8:16 am

My wife and I caught Neeme’s “farewell” concert last Saturday night—although as it turns out, he will now be returning next weekend for one more series of concerts, replacing his son Paavo, who is indisposed because of a hand injury.

Detroit’s Orchestra Hall was packed, both in the audience, and on stage for all the extra instruments needed for the program. Neeme choose three works “close to his heart” for his valedictory concert as Music Director of the Detroit Symphony—Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstacy Op.54, the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

I admit to being a non-fan of Scriabin, and Neeme’s performance of the Poem did little to change my mind. Scriabin’s music seems to wander endlessly, with barely-defined themes and interminable “suspended cadences” in the style of Wagner’s Liebestod. Sorry, but I couldn’t wait for this one to be over, although there was some beautiful playing in the woodwinds.

The Strauss was another matter, however. Danish soprano Inger Dam-Jensen has a lovely voice, and seemed very much at home in Strauss’s late Romantic style. The local critics felt that her voice was “too small” for the music, but I for one will take this type of sensitively-produced vocalism any day, over a Wagnerian soprano with a voice as big as a barn. Did it ever occur to the aforementioned critics that this “problem” might be viewed from a different perspective? Instead of Ms Dam-Jensen’s voice being “too small”, could it not be that the DSO’s sound was “too large”? Neeme in fact would have done well to downsize his forces to chamber-orchestra proportions, which is probably how Strauss envisioned the piece being performed in the first place. Otherwise, Neeme seemed to relish the rich sonorities, and followed his singer admirably.

As might be expected from an Eastern European conductor trained in the former Soviet Union, Neeme Järvi indeed has the “right stuff” to bring off the Rite. So, too, with the Detroit Symphony, although it should be noted that nearly every modern-day professional or semi-professional orchestra worth its salt can mount a convincing production of Stravinsky’s masterwork.

That being said, I find it difficult to single out any aspect of Neeme’s interpretation that stood out for me, anything that I can put my finger on as being Neeme’s “way” with the Rite of Spring. Indeed, a critic in Fanfare recently wrote regarding Paavo Järvi’s Telarc recording of the Rite (and I’m paraphrasing) that “once the orchestra has the right notes in the right rhythms, there is little that can be said about ‘interpretation’”. That may be a little extreme, but you get the idea. If Neeme had been able to commit his version of the Rite to tape immediately afterwards, would it stand a chance against all the other famous recorded performances out there, especially Dorati’s award-winning version with the DSO from 1981? No way. Would I even want to own a copy? Probably not.

There is one negative about Neeme’s Rite that should be mentioned, namely that the percussion was often too loud (not surprising--he is a former percussionist). I don’t think I’ve ever heard a performance where the tam-tam was capable of drowning out the entire orchestra, but this one did at several points in the Danse sacrale! Otherwise, the orchestra covered itself with glory throughout, especially the nine horns, who were a veritable force of nature.

Predictably, the audience jumped to their feet at the end and gave Neeme a standing ovation. Neeme and the orchestra played two encores—the same piece twice (!), Christopher Rouse’s The Infernal Machine. Neeme Järvi leaves Detroit with an impressive record of accomplishments to his credit, including a much-improved orchestra and audience base. I would have liked to see a bit more accomplished in the “interpretative” category—he often seemed to be “going through the motions”, resulting in too many performances that were little more than “generic”. Oh well--perhaps the next (as yet unnamed) Music Director will be better in this department.

Respectfully submitted,

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jun 15, 2005 5:57 pm

Terrific review-many thanks.

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Post by herman » Thu Jun 16, 2005 2:47 am

Thank you CB, very interesting.

On a topic on Järvi's departure I mentioned that, even though I'd lived in SE Michigan for seven years I had not even once been at a concert of the Detroit SO, since the Cleveland and Chicago were so much more alluring.

I do however have an excellent recording by Järvi and the DSO, i.e. the Tchaikovsky orchestral Suites, of which the third gets quite a bit of rotation out here. It's signifcantly better than the Russian-recorded versions I have.

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Re Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit

Post by C.B. » Thu Jun 16, 2005 5:46 am

Herman -

I agree that Chicago and Cleveland are often more alluring (even though I've been a home-town Detroit boy for most of my 56 years). Still, there's something about the "underdog" status of the DSO that's appealing, especially when a good conductor such as Dorati or Paray is on the podium. The trouble is, the DSO has suffered under mediocre music directors for most of its existence--one only has to think back to the Sixten Ehrling, Aldo Ceccato or Gunter Herbig years for proof. Even Neeme's tenure left something to be desired. Sure, he got us a recording contract with Chandos, but many of his CDs have limited interest for me. I certainly don't spin them nearly as much as some others.

But then, Chicago and Cleveland have seen better days, too. I admit to being turned off by much of what Daniel Barenboim has done in Chicago recently. And the orchestra seems to have devolved into a charactiture of itself, with blaring brass (especially the trombones) and aenemic strings. Cleveland is a bit better--I've been drawn to several of Boulez's recent CDs that he's made there. But the new music director Franz Welser-Möst?--don't have a single CD of his, and I have no idea what he's all about.

Ah well, at least the Vienna Philharmonic is sounding great these days.
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Post by jserraglio » Thu Jun 16, 2005 11:48 am

I, too, am a fan of the DSO. Dorati and Paray were giants. I listen to the DSO broadcasts often. I think a lot of American orchestras are underrated (some are overrated). We've got Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, LA, San Francisco, St. Louis, Florida Atlanta, Florida Phil, Oregon, Nashville, Colorado, Houston, Dallas The met, etc. etc. A wealth to choose from.

Re: Franz Welser-Möst

To my knowledge, no commercial recordings with Cleveland exist, though the Orchestra offers at least 2 disks of music by Haydn (Sym 67), Ravel (Mother Goose complete), Brahms (Haydn Var), J. Strauss (Waltz op. 443), Tchaikovsky (Sym 6). Of course, he recorded a lot of standard rep and offbeat stuff for EMI before Cleveland and is still recording DVDs of operas with Zurich.

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