The Best Elgar Ever
De Waart leads MSO in warm, full-bodied performance
Iâ€™ve heard Edward Elgarâ€™s Enigma Variations more times than I can recall over decades of concert going, with at least three orchestras in addition to recordings. I think the performance on Saturday evening was the best Iâ€™ve ever encountered. De Waartâ€™s approach to this warm and beloved music brought it to life without schmaltz, which can weaken the strength of the piece. The great dignity and love in the music emerged with full-voiced, disciplined playing. Many artful details added to the performance: solos from violist Robert Levine, cellist Susan Babini, clarinetist Todd Levy and bassoonist Ted Soluri; exciting, rich sounds from trombones and tuba; gorgeous ensemble work from the woodwinds and horns; and well-blended string section playing.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozartâ€™s Symphony No. 38 (â€śPragueâ€ť) was given a tight, crisp, lively performance, finding a happy, buzzy groove. Richard Wagnerâ€™s poignant and intimate Siegfried Idyll, written as a Christmas present for his wife, was performed with tenderness and poetry. Again, De Waartâ€™s evolved aesthetic avoided the danger of added sentimentality.
Every few years I complain about the automatic, meaningless standing ovation that is rampant in the U.S. The American urge for overstatement is part of whatâ€™s behind this, as well as the habitual, collegial feeling of joining in after it has started. Audiences seem to forget that applause is an adequate ovation, even for an excellent performance. Standing ovations almost never happen at terrific classical concerts in Germany and Austria. A suggestion: Have the courage to sit there and applaud. If more people did that, maybe the standing ovation would become a very rare occurrence every few years, as it used to be, and would actually mean something.