International Brucknerfest 2015 performance by the Vienna Philharmonic
THE BRUCKNERHAUS sits by the River Danube. Set amidst the lawns of Donaupark on the south bank, it is Upper Austria’s premier concert venue, and shares its high profile setting with prominent neighbours the Lentos Museum of Art and the Ars Electronica Centre.
Plans to establish a concert hall in Linz were being discussed before World War II. After the war, the Friends of Anton Bruckner founded the Brucknerhaus Association. In the late 1950s the City of Linz gave the go-ahead for construction. At the Brucknerhaus’s inaugural concert on 23 March 1974, the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, performed Anton Bruckner’s 7th Symphony.
I happened to be in Linz during the International Brucknerfest 2015, and attended a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Semyon Bychkov. The soloist was mezzo-soprano and contralto Elisabeth Kulman.
The Brucknerhaus is a spacious hall, with an enormous breadth from one side to the other. With seating for 1,420 people, it is also a comfortable hall.
I sat with Michael White (left), a long-established opera and classical music critic. “For me, the most important thing for a concert hall is how it sounds. I found the hall very bright and resonant, so from where we were sitting the acoustics were good.
“What can you say about the Vienna Philharmonic? As one of the three great orchestras in the world, you expect it to be wonderful, and it was. They covered a very similar programme to the one they gave at the Proms in the Albert Hall, and they did it here fabulously.”
The programme included pieces by Joseph Haydn, Richard Wagner and Franz Schmidt. Although not a particularly well-known Austrian composer, Schmidt fits into the world of a Brucknerfest, because he was a pupil of Bruchner, having studied with him in Vienna, and indeed his music owes a lot to Bruchner. We heard his second symphony, which is the biggest of Schmidt’s four symphonies. It is an enormous piece which requires a vast orchestra with a huge, rich sound, and this is what the Vienna Philharmonic can do so opulently.
“The one thing about the Vienna Philharmonic is that they are an old-fashioned sounding orchestra. They are not lean and edgy, rather it is the sound equivalent of sinking into a well-upholstered sofa. It is really plush and very Viennese, with wonderfully rich strings, and they played the symphony beautifully,” said Michael.
Another piece covered was Wagner’s Mathilde Wesendonck, a song cycle with orchestra. Elisabeth Korman has a much bigger reputation in German-speaking countries than she does in London. Her voice has definition, drama and presence and, being so expressive, the repertoire was extremely well executed.
The evening was a great success, and to have the opportunity to see the Vienna Philharmonic in such a magical setting made it complete.