As collectors know, exploring outside the basic repertory is often both frustrating and rewarding. The search for significant neglected music, one learns early, is not so easy as it appears. Many worthy pieces one falls in love with turn out to be partial works of genius, with uninspired moments we choose to forgive, defects of length and proportion, or performing requirements condemning them to obscurity.
The Philadelphia Orchestra always WAS the sexiest! Back in the publicity heyday of art music and the aftermath of Toscanini, Americans knew their five orchestras. It went like this: in Boston you listened to Charles Munch for Gallic excitability. In Chicago, Reiner ruled with a heart of stone but turned out warmer central European renditions than Toscanini had. You flocked to Bernstein for eruptive passion and disreputable energy in New York. And at Severance Hall, in a state of penance, you submitted to the owlish purges of George Szell. But nothing seduced the listener so much as The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Eugene Ormandy.
A couple of years ago the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and conductor Riccardo Chailly visited Boston and gave a wonderful Symphony Hall concert of Richard Strauss tone poems. The orchestra, with a lot of young members, played splendidly, with great group spirit. And Chailly gave extraordinary purpose and meaning to the music. He and the orchestra under his leadership showed care and commitment with every bar, every note, and fashioned each piece into a compelling organic whole. Wow! one felt. Friends of mine in New York heard the same program a week later there and had much the same reaction.
The visit of the Leipzig Gewandhaus brings to a close the series of concerts by the great central European orchestras in Carnegie Hall. (Only the Dresdener Staatskapelle was lacking, and they are scheduled to appear next season.) It is a unique pleasure to hear a comprehensive series of these great ensembles in one hall, which also happens to possess one of the finest acoustics in the world. It is also a familiar one to me, since I have been attending concerts at Carnegie since childhood, when the New York Philharmonic still played there. The restoration has impaired its full glory somewhat, but I've grown used to the sound as it is—a bit too bright, but capable of embracing the grandest orchestral tutti and projecting the finest detail of a solo instrument up to the rafters. As an environment for comparison, only Symphony Hall in Boston can rival it, but the program of visiting orchestras in Boston has sadly diminished over the years. Only the Berlin Philharmonic and the Leipzig Gewandhaus have played in Boston this season. (I was only recently reminiscing with a friend about how we used to hear Cleveland and other great American orchestras, as well as Vienna and Berlin in Symphony Hall more or less annually.)