Made in Canada
Johannes Moser, cello and Julian Kuerti, conductor
Works by Schumann, Mozart, Saint-Saens and Rimsky-Korsakov, Orpheum, December 4, 2010
This VSO concert was a nice celebration of young Canadian talent, featuring 33 year-old Toronto-born conductor, Julian Kuerti and 31 year-old German/ Canadian cellist, Johannes Moser. The former is the son of the legendary Canadian pianist, Anton Kuerti, and has served as Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony and the Budapest Festival Orchestra since 2005. Johannes Moser won the Tchaikovsky competition in 2002 and has been heralded by the Gramophone magazine as ‘one of the finest among the astonishing gallery of young virtuoso cellists’. He has already been a soloist with most of the great international orchestras and conductors and his six recordings for Hannsler Classics have received the highest praise. He is also noted for his championing of ultra-modern works using the ‘electric’ cello.
While both artists have collaborated in the Dvorak concerto before, this was their first attempt at the Schumann Cello Concerto. What was immediately notable was just how closely soloist and conductor watched, and played off, each other. We often do not see this except in smaller chamber ensembles. This produced a refreshingly tight, integrated performance that moved strongly from beginning to end. Johannes Moser showed a tremendous suppleness and agility in his playing, being able to change his expressive tone within even a single phrase. This was buoyant, animated playing that weaved in and out with the orchestra in a most concentrated fashion. For some, the purposive drive of this performance might be a little much; perhaps there is more repose and poetic expanse in Schumann’s world. But, remember, these are young artists reveling in their own discovery.
From the opening of Mozart’s Clemenzo di Tito Overture, conductor Julian Kuerti showed a broad, powerful control over the orchestra, bringing out wind passages intelligently and eliciting smooth, sculpted playing from both upper and lower strings. This was a Beethoven-size interpretation, quite exciting when the orchestra was going full out. Since his conducting hinted at some of the ‘big boned’ character and control of, say, a young Andrew Litton (or even Mariss Jansons), I certainly looked forward to the full orchestra pieces later in the concert. Unfortunately, here the conductor showed that he is still ‘young’.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq d’or and Stravinsky’s Firebird suites are ‘showpieces’ of the orchestral repertoire, full of exotic colourings and drama. Conductor Kuerti again aimed for a broad, structured treatment of these works but he was too cautious and deliberate overall. Time and again he could have pushed forward to generate some exotic shimmer and drama in the orchestra, but he settled for sober articulation. Climaxes were indeed weighty but not electric. In fact, the Firebird suite was delivered without much ‘fire’ at all, concentrating on the hauntingly-beautiful Russian folk melodies (played on the woodwinds) and not on the distinctive staccatos and unsettling string tremolandos that make this work so sharply-etched and mysterious in every bar. Much of the performance had a serene Debussy-like flow; beautiful, yes, but the sinew of the work was missing. So, a young conductor with great potential but still something to learn. But overall, a joy to see these two wonderful young artists together!
© Geoffrey Newman 2010