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Consensual Bach and Mozart from Germany


Typische Neubeuerrn afternoon
Typisch Neubeuerrn afternoon

For Georg Enoch Robert Prosper Philipp Franz Karl Theodor Maria Heinrich Johannes Luitpold Hartmann Gundeloh Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, the conductor of the KlangVerwaltung Orchestra and the Chorgemeinschaft Neubeuern (Chorus), a Telefon may be just as mighty as a baton. Since 1997, Guttenberg has been calling friends in “leading orchestras to gather part-time over their shared love of performing excellent music at a world-class caliber.”

On Wednesday the ensembles carried Mozart’s Requiem and Bach’s Magnificat to Symphony Hall. It was their final outing in a six-city tour organized by Attila Glatz, the originator of the notable “Salute to Vienna” (which features made-to order orchestras with imported conductors and soloists at 25 simultaneous New Years Eve gigs).

One wondered about the coals-to-Newcastle gift of these two pieces to a city with a very rich tradition of fine community and professional choral singing. In this room only a couple of weeks ago, your reviewer enjoyed a very fine take on the Magnificat from the forces of Handel + Haydn [here].

Aiming, according to the PR, to” thrill the avid classical music lover and casual concert-goer alike,” Friday’s readings neither quite thrilled nor very much displeased. To begin with it was charming to see the 89 Trachtenanzug– and Dirndl-clad singers from the picture-postcard Bavarian village of Neubeuern saunter ever so slowly onto their platforms. The orchestra of something less than half that number marched out in close formation having tuned ever so correctly off-stage.

Possessing neither the clarity of articulation of Boston’s best period instrument orchestras nor the sumptuousness of our best modern ones, the KlangVerwaltung produced reliable, spruce, and well-tuned tones. Unfortunately, slow tempi often lost tension and fast passages often lurched rather than skipped. The clean, generic, modern compromise style differentiated but little other than in size of forces between Mozart and Bach. Two players deserve especial notice, though: Makiko Katoka sounded out without fear on the C-trumpet in the Bach, and the strokes of Babette Haag on Baroque cans radiated confidence and period insight all through the night.

The basic choral sound of the Neubeurn villagers was solid but they achieved no real fffs or ppps. In our best local groups, virtually any singer can step out for an aria; I did not have that sense with Neubeurners. And Guttenberg imposed many post-modern hairpins (mini crescendo-decrescendos) and strange stabbing deconstructions of words, along with seemingly arbitrarily accented phrases. This tended to obscure destination and attract unnecessary notice.

The four vocal soloists formed something of a misalliance in their ensembles. To begin with both Anke Vondung and Susanne Bernhardt produced mezzo-soprano coloration, even though one was billed as a soprano. Each projected an attractive instrument with pleasant timbre and clear enunciation, but one wanted more contrast between vocal types. A habit of beginning almost every phrase with a forte-diminuendo marred Daniel Johannsen’s bright production. The very tall basso Tareq Nazmi commanded the stage with huge low notes that boomed out in keeping with his stature. Before he plays Sarastro, though, he needs to brighten and unlock the top of his range and learn to support quieter dynamics.

The energy that Guttenberg brings to touring seemingly overcomes huge logistical hurdles year after year. Next time let him bring a more novel program. How about the Mozart orchestration of Messiah?


The Globe’s feature/interview by Zoë Madonna [here] may have inadvertently elevated this ad hoc touring orchestra into an established entity, which deserves a probing spotlight. For me it left unanswered questions about the periodic entity that none of my German friends have heard of.

Mies van der Rohe wrote that God is in the details. For Enoch zu Guttenberg, God is in the notes. Only when he is beating time does his spirit ascend from atheism to agnosticism. He further told Globe readers that he is not prepared to conduct a piece until he and his players are entirely in accord on interpretation. Could one conclude then that that God is a democrat? And if two players had been contrarians, maybe that is why there are now only 48 and not 50 in the touring company. When 100% consensus is necessary, how does spontaneity arise?

Enoch von und zu Guttenberg at his ease.
Enoch von und zu Guttenberg at his ease.

Guttenberg also told Globe readers that his Mozart and Bach readings were informed by his understanding as a German of what religious thoughts might have been in the composers’ minds, but is Lutheran music really so different from Catholic music as to cause struggles for composers or interpreters? Were Bach and Mozart on a “du” basis with their players, as Guttenberg claims to be with his touring groupings? Was von Karajan equally deferential to his 100 powerful bosses in the player-run Berlin Philharmonic? One doubts it, certainly not after the brouhaha erupted upon his inviting clarinetist Sabine Meyer.

Enoch G is ardent in many ways. For instance, he is gravely concerned about human environmental depredations. After hearing his enthusiastic performance here, though, we dispense plenary indulgences for his carbon contrails.

Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I was not aware, until reading this review, of the existence of this touring ensemble. But there is some sort of tradition, how old I don’t know, in Germany of roadshow-only ensembles. The “Heidelberg Chamber Orschestra” (have I remembered their name correctly?) toured extensively in Europe in the late sixties and seventies, with programs of well-known pieces: Vivaldi Four Seasons, Pachelbel Canon, _e tutti quanti._ Their posters had a definite “look,” and were pretty much visible all over the place.

    As I understand their history, there was no actual ensemble, but only a brand name. The musicians were, as I understood it, recruited from conservatory student ranks and paid subsistence, or expenses-only wages; the rosters changed with every tour. What endured was the management, and the marketing skill. The enterprise was planning an American tour in the late seventies or early eighties, as I recall, and their manager phoned me from Europe to see if I could help them get gigs in this area. I have no idea if their U.S. tour actually took off.

    Perhaps the “periodic entity that none of my German friends have heard of” is an undertaking that share some DNA with the “Heidelberg” “ensemble.”

    Comment by Joel Cohen — October 27, 2016 at 10:40 pm

  2. not unlike the Columbia SO

    Comment by david moran — October 28, 2016 at 1:26 am

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