The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra was founded by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1743, and since that time it has been led by the likes of Mendelssohn, Mahler and Furtwaengler. It is currently directed by Kurt Masur, who conducted its Kennedy Center concert Saturday night.
Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F Minor comes at the height of romanticism, an age when an artist was all but inseparable from his or her art. The piece is full of anguish and real passion, qualities that were not evident in Kurt Masur's approach.
Instead there was a straightforward reading, rushed and void of rubato. The ensemble does have formidable strings, and the cello section in particular sang with great beauty. But the brass and winds were often wild and off more often than not when intoning the famous "Fate" motif. The weaknesses of the andantino were exaggerated, longer lines were lost, and the final appearance of "Fate" became a merely musical rather than emotional intrusion.
Schumann's "Spring" Symphony, No. 1 in B-Flat Major fared better. Impetuosity is not out of place in this youthful work, and crisp rhythms were particularly convincing in the outer movements. Lovely dynamic shadings in the strings during the larghetto almost provided the necessary contrast for the playful, delightfully shallow scherzo.