Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Pretty Vacant

October 28, 2010

Daniel Harding and members of the Dresden Staatskapelle in Orange County Photo: mine 2010

On Tuesday, I got to see the first of two performances from the Dresden Staatskapelle (or as the cover of the Orange County Performing Arts Center program proclaimed them, the Dresden Staaskapelle) on my schedule for this week while on their current US tour with conductor Daniel Harding. This stop was close to home in Orange County, which welcomed one of the world’s oldest and most respected orchestras into one of the world’s newest concert halls in Costa Mesa. (The other performance this week is on Halloween in New York where the ensemble will play Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival.) Brahms seems to be the composer of choice for European orchestras these days when they come to the US, so seeing the ever-present Symphony No. 2 in the prime spot on Wednesday’s show from the Dresden players was no surprise. And in some ways, neither was the performance. This orchestra oozes finesse out of every pore. There were amazingly precise moments throughout, particularly in the last movement, and particularly from the strings. It was played beautifully without a doubt. However, it was also like one of those beautifully printed glossy magazines. The joy of its beauty can be complicated by the difficulty separating the pages which stick together with abundant static electricity. Sometimes a few rough edges can make it easier to appreciate things.

Things were similar in the first half of the show, which was packed with other commonplace orchestral works. Schumann’s “Manfred” Overture started the evening with wonderful entrances and exits. This was followed by Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with soloist Rudolf Buchbinder. The playing was very accurate and pretty. But it seemed almost too easy, thrown off in a casual way that was oddly uninvolving. Granted, in a program like this one filled with staples and virtually no contrast, the artistic goals are set somewhat low. And there are worse things than an evening of well-played staples. Harding is a reasonable conductor and seems to communicate well with an orchestra that has been there and done that. The organization’s management has had particular trouble holding onto music directors over the last several years and Christian Thielemann is scheduled to take over the reigns in 2012. So, in the meantime, the pretty music carries on. And though it isn’t always terribly involving, pretty isn’t a bad thing either.



Brahms seems to be the most popular choice of European orchestras playing in Europe too. I love him, but it's getting a bit excessive when you can hear one of the symphonies basically every week in Vienna.
Hey Brian,

Don't miss Becky Shaw playing at SCR right across the way. If you didn't catch in in NY you really must go. Vacant it's not.
Actually, I am going to see Becky Shaw, but not until the last performance on the 21st due to scheduling issues. I look forward to it based on your recommendation.
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