Four composers with Leipzig links made up the second and final Gewandhausorchester concert in Leipzig Week: Mahler, Schumann, Wagner and Mendelssohn (with his Third Symphony an encore presentation from Leipzig Week 2018 with the BSO). Mahler completed his First Symphony during his time at the Leipzig Opera. Its second movement, entitled “Blumine”, recycled a trumpet serenade from incidental music now lost. Though traces remain in the revised symphony, the movement itself was cut and left undiscovered until 1959. Andris Nelsons maintained a steady, relaxed pulse, phrasing broadly and taking a bit over seven minutes. Principal trumpet, Lukas Beno, matched him and his autumnal palette while giving his solos a contrasting unearthly quality, like a lover calling to his beloved from the afterlife. An unfortunately timed coughing fit marred the hushed evanescence Nelsons and the orchestra conjured in the final measures.

Andris Nelsons conducts the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester in Boston
© Robert Torres

Schumann’s Cello Concerto toys with both form and content but is conspicuous also for its lack of display. Instead of impressing with flashy virtuosity, Gautier Capuçon’s cello invites the listener in to eavesdrop on its rhapsodic ruminations and conversations. Capuçon spoke with a different voice than in the previous concert’s Brahms – warm, tender and longing; aggressive, brooding and contemplative when needed – and in round, amber tones. Schumann wrote the concerto with no pauses between its three movements. Thanks to Nelsons’ and Capuçon’s unanimity, transitions were so subtle and smooth that that the concerto unspooled as one long, but varied episode. The duet between soloist and principal cello, Christian Giger, in the Langsam movement was arresting in its blend and emotional give-and-take. Capuçon announced an unusual encore: his arrangement of Dvořák’s song, Lass mich allein, which, far from leaving him alone, included the entire GHO cello section.

Wagner’s overture to Der fliegende Höllander called attention to one of the GHO’s other roles as the Leipzig Opera orchestra, sending towering waves of storm-tossed sound washing over the hall, mitigating the tempest with a jaunty, rhythmically buoyant chantey, and ending in the brilliant light of the redemption theme. It was overture as one-act opera and whet the appetite for opera figuring more prominently in a future GHO visit.

Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony benefited from the same attention to tempo (brisker in the outer movements this time) and dynamics as Nelsons’ BSO February, 2018 performance. The GHO’s unique string sound, orchestral blend, athletic unanimity of purpose, and tuning (443 Hz as opposed to the BSO’s 441) were the difference, the latter yielding a brighter sheen and keener edge to the strings in particular. The contrast between the liquid skirling and purling of the Scherzo and the brooding, dirge-like quality of the following Andante was a lesson in the expressive use of weight and color. Also, where the BSO respectfully lingers, the GHO almost visibly strains at the bit, eager to be given its head. Reins loosened, it takes off like a thoroughbred for the finish line.