When you see Alisa Weilerstein play cello, you’re not just watching a pretty young cellist on the stage. Rather, when she plays, you see a fusion of the young American, her instrument and the music – on April the 10th, at the Great Hall of the Mozarteum, Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor. Alisa Weilerstein is particularly known for her high technical precision and passionate playing, both of which were on show this evening. The A minor concerto was one of Schumann’s last works, and its melodies are visibly drawn from the tragic circumstances of its mentally disturbed composer. This aspect was clear to see in Weilerstein’s interpretation; as she played the rapid leaps and wide intervals of the concerto’s last movement, you could sense her feeling of Schumann’s frenetic grief.

Alisa Weilerstein © Jamie Jung
Alisa Weilerstein
© Jamie Jung

Her playing was never merely a correct rendering of the printed music; she played without fear and with great attention to the expression, with numerous double stops filling the hall with a dark timbre. A totally bewitched audience rewarded her with lengthy applause and received an encore in return: the bourrée from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite no. 3, in which the young cellist showed once again her fantastic technique and the facility with which she plays. In typical Salzburg style, the thanks for a wonderful performance came not as flowers but in the form of Mozartkugeln [Austrian chocolate marzipan truffles].

Alisa Weilerstein and Schumann were not the only things in the evening’s programme. First, the Salzburg Mozarteum orchestra, under the baton of Ivor Bolton, who accompanied the young soloist in the A minor concerto, got the audience into the mood for this journey through the 19th century with Felix Mendelssohn’s concert overture The Hebrides. In 1829, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was inspired to compose this piece by a journey to Scotland and the wild, romantic Hebridean landscape. The composer was especially taken with the mystical atmosphere of the legendary Fingal’s Cave. Bolton portrayed this mysterious atmosphere most clearly through the string playing. By extensive manipulation of dynamics, he portrayed the contrasts between the work’s dark timbre and Mendelssohn’s depiction of the smack of a cold wind over the white fields of the Scottish landscape. The soft rumble of timpani rounded off a somewhat gloomy mood.

The second half also began with a work by Mendelssohn. His overture Ruy Blas, written as a prelude to Victor Hugo’s eponymous play, may be a short piece but is rich in content. Ivor Bolton succeeded in allowing individual instruments to stand out from a good orchestral balance, making the different passages clearly discernible from each other. The evening closed with Schubert’s Symphony in D minor, written as a gift for his 22 year old wife Clara. The four movement work is especially notable for its large wind section, with brass sequences often very much in the foreground. Here also, however, Bolton produced a balanced sound, without relegating the brass to the background, but giving particular prominence to the clarinets with their light, melodious sound.

Ivor Bolton and the Mozarteum orchestra cannot be said to have been in Alisa Weilerstein’s shadow. Rather, this program was a lovely journey through the many-faceted music of the nineteenth century and the soul of its composers, rewarded by the audience with lengthy applause.

 

English translation by David Karlin