After UM appointment, Schwarz shows his mettle with Palm Beach Symphony

By Lawrence Budmen

Gerard Schwarz will succeed Thomas Sleeper at the Frost School of Music this fall.

Gerard Schwarz conducted the Palm Beach Symphony in music of Mozart and Bruckner Friday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

Earlier this week Gerard Schwarz was appointed Professor of Conducting and Orchestral Studies at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. On Friday night Schwarz made his first South Florida appearance since that announcement, leading the Palm Beach Symphony in a program of works by Mozart and Bruckner at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. From the results Schwarz achieved with this local ensemble, Miami concertgoers have much to look forward to.

The former music director of the Seattle Symphony and Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, Schwarz is a well-practiced Mozartian and his accompaniment to Leon Fleisher’s performance of the Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major was a textbook demonstration of stylistic acuity and strong collaborative skills. Since returning to playing selective two-hand keyboard works in the 1990’s, this early Mozart concerto has been a cornerstone of Fleisher’s repertoire.

While his performances of scores in recent years have been highly variable, Fleisher still has this concerto in his fingers and for the most part, he offered a winning reading. Schwarz set a graceful pace for the introduction and, immediately, the unanimity and precise intonation he drew from the reduced string contingent commanded attention. Fleisher gave a finely chiseled account of the first movement that was almost too lyrical and reticent. Greater sparkle and energy would have been welcome.

Still, the cadenza was cleanly rendered and Fleisher came into his own with an elegant reading of the Andante. Drawing crystalline tone from a fine-sounding Steinway, Fleisher brought distinctive depth to the minor-key modulations. The fullness and bloom of the string sound was definitely not of the period/authentic variety but Schwarz’s skillful highlighting of wind lines allowed often-obscure instrumental details to emerge. Pianist and conductor fully captured the quirky spirit of the final Allegretto. Now in his 90th year, it was heartening to hear Fleisher play with such light-hearted nimbleness.

Following intermission, an enlarged orchestra took the stage for Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E Major. Schwarz paced the opening motif broadly and he held the violins’ elongated tremolo in check while bringing out the tonal warmth of the lower strings. There were a few slips from the horns but the corporate ensemble effort was solidly unified with the big climaxes registering strong sonic impact. Schwarz brought vivacity and Viennese warmth to the contrasting folk elements and gave equal emphasis to the Brahmsian and Wagnerian influences of Bruckner’s writing.

His tempo in the eloquent Adagio was faster than the norm. While this fleet approach may not go down well in Dresden or Leipzig, Schwarz’s forward-moving, purposeful reading fully realized the drama, power and pathos of Bruckner’s threnody to Wagner. The four Wagner tubas were expertly blended into the ensemble tapestry and the long-limbed arches impressively sustained. Schwarz masterfully built the organ-like crescendo at the movement’s culmination.

There was plenty of rhythmic bite in the Scherzo but the more relaxed central episode offered a strong sense of contrast. The initial thematic figure of the finale was articulated with incisive thrust. There were a few more brass mishaps but wind solos were strong and mellow in tone. Schwarz never allowed the movement to become episodic, leading with a sense of inexorable momentum the final bars reaching a tumultuous conclusion.

This was not a Bruckner performance on the level of a major orchestra. But at key moments, Schwarz rallied the ensemble to such impressive heights that he almost made one believe that it was. If he can deliver this level of performance from an orchestra that only gives a handful of concerts each season, one can only imagine what he can achieve working with talented students on a regular basis.

Gerard Schwarz, welcome to South Florida.

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Sat Apr 13, 2019
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