Theodore Thomas [see also Thomas Orchestra]
Price: $1.50; $5 complete series subscription; $12 complete series subscription for three persons
3 October 2017
“The sacred symphonie soiree of Theodore Thomas was attended by a very large audience at Irving Hall on Saturday evening. The character of the music produced at these entertainments, being of the highest and most classical order, naturally draws an auditory of critical and fastidious taste, who go to enjoy a musical feast not provided elsewhere. In this they are not disappointed. The symphonies of Schumann and Bach were interpreted on this occasion with fidelity and a correctness of instrumentation that were unexceptionable. Mr. Thomas evidently commands the orchestra entirely and with perfect control. It would be hard to find anything more perfect than the orchestral accompaniments to the great concerto of Beethoven, performed on the piano by Mr. Carl Wolfsohn, a gentleman new to a New York audience, and who, in this piece as well as in the exceedingly difficult and rarely attempted fantasia of Liszt on Robert le Diable, gave all the evidence of a thorough artist, and received a very decided mark of approbation, which he deserved. Mrs. Van Zandt sang delightfully the Di Piacer from La Gazza Ladra,and an aria from I Puritani in both of which she was encored, substituting for the latter the popular ballad ‘Comin’ through the rye,’ which she sang with great naívete and expression. We have seldom heard her pure, fresh voice to more advantage, and never witnessed a more cordial recognition of her claims to the rank an admirable vocalist. The symphonie soirees of Mr. Thomas are musical luxuries, which leave one in a dream of melody for the interval elapsing between them.”
“Mr. Theodore Thomas gave his second symphonic soirée at Irving Hall on Saturday evening. The night was thoroughly unpleasant, but the very large attendance proved that there is a wide and general interest in these fine entertainments, and that Mr. Thomas’ weather-beaten patrons are proof against the inconstant heavens. Schumann’s symphony No. 2 in C opened the concert. It is less known than the one in D minor, or even than that in B, but it is a singularly rugged and strong work, not always pleasing, perhaps, but large and individual in its characteristics. It was finely played by the orchestra, and applauded by the audience. The Toccata in F, by Bach, was the next orchestral piece. It has been newly instrumented by Esser, and without, as it seems to us, adding to its effectiveness. The organ is grand enough for such productions. For that instrument, the Toccata is striking, quaint and pleasing. The overture to ‘Euryanthe’ closed the evening, and left an impression of thorough delight upon the audience.
Mr. Theodore Thomas was assisted by Mme. Van Zandt and Mr. Carl Wolfsohn. The lady sang ‘Di Piacer,’ from ‘La Gazza Ladra,’ with skill, and subsequently ‘Qui la Voce,’ from ‘I Puritani.’ Both pieces brought down the house. The encore ballad (“Coming through the Rye,’) was entirely spoiled by a superfluity of common-place runs and flourishes which were out of place and tawdry to the last degree. Mr. Carl Wolfsohn is a pianist from Philadelphia, with whose fame we are all more or less acquainted. We were not prepared, however, to hear a gentleman of such remarkable technical ability, or one who was so capable of giving a truly poetic interpretation to Beethoven’s superb Concerto in E flat. The nicest feeling pervaded Mr. Wolfsohn’s delivery of this work. Every note was distinct and delicate; every phrase clear and intelligent; every passage fluent and connected; and, withal, a rare wholeness of conception. If the work had grown on the gentleman’s fingers it could not have seemed more easy and natural than it did. We have seldom enjoyed it so thoroughly, and only regret that the general public—to whom its length is an objection—will not have an early opportunity of hearing it repeated. Mr. Wolfsohn’s second piece was the very difficult ‘Robert le Diable Fantasia,’ by Liszt, which he played with fine technical skill, but without the reserved strength and clear purpose that characterized the rendering of the concerto.”
“Amusements. The most important musical incidents of the season, in an artistic sense, are the ‘Symphonic Soirees’ of Mr. Theodore Thomas. They carry out the purpose of illustrating, by the most liberal means that can here be employed, the various schools of old and new orchestral composition. The second of the series was given last Saturday evening, at Irving Hall, and was listened to with the strictest attention by a numerous audience. The performances of Schumann’s Symphony in C, Bach’s Toccata in F (arranged for orchestra) and Weber’s ‘Euryanthe’ overture were as finished as the most devoted disciples of those composers could have wished for. It is a marvel how Mr. Thomas obtains such control over his large body of musicians in the short period which the conditions of modern concert giving allow him for rehearsal. Works which have even been repeatedly performed present sufficient trials to orchestras hastily collected, and not regularly organized; but Mr. Thomas attacks and necessarily overcomes in a week the difficulties of compositions which have never before been produced, and which would appear to require the laborious preparation of months to accurately interpret their meaning.
The concert on Saturday evening was less distinguished by novelty than that with which the series opened some weeks ago. Americans are already acquainted with Schumann’s symphony in C. It is a fine work, thoroughly and skillfully wrought out, but one which will never find its way to the highest rank among orchestral compositions. Like his other symphonies, in B flat and D minor, it has all the character that dexterous construction and ingenious elaboration can impart, with hardly a ray of inspiration to lift it, even at intervals, to the level of works of true genius. It is especially wanting in breadth and amplitude of design. It seems a mosaic, composed of fragments skillfully, if not always symmetrically, put together, but has little of the unity and perfect fluency which appear in the orchestral writings of the first standard—those of Mozart or Beethoven, or, in less degree, of Mendelssohn. There are originality and invention in Schumann’s symphonies—more conspicuously shown, perhaps, in his first, in B flat, than in this—but we [?] at times to discover the comprehensiveness, the facility of free and bold development, or the genuine creative power by the assumed virtue of which his admirers have claimed for him a station beside the undisputed masters of his art. Bach’s Toccata has more of the qualities of broad purpose and clear conception than the whole of Schumann’s symphony possesses; although we are not aware that much needs to be said in other respects about this favorite organ piece of the old composer. Its production in an orchestral form is interesting to musicians, whose thanks are due Mr. Thomas for this opportunity of hearing it. The conjunction of Bach and Schumann in the same concert may have been accidental, but it is a pertinent coincidence that a cherished theory of the devotees of the latter unites the two names as those of composers who labored in the same field and with precisely the same artistic spirit—according to the varying conditions of the times in which they lived—toward the elevation of their art. That Schumann was accustomed to speak of Bach as the greatest of masters, we all are aware; but that anything existed in common between the two men, in an aesthetic view, we are altogether indisposed to admit.
Weber’s spirited overture to ‘Euryanthe’ closed the concert effectively. The soloists whose performances relieved the more serious part of the entertainment were Mrs. Jennie Van Zandt, a young lady with a good voice, but, at present, an imperfect method, and Mr. Carl Wolfsohn, a pianist of brilliant accuracy in execution, but without much apparent power of expression. He played the whole of Beethoven’s concerto in E flat, and was liberally applauded at the end of each movement. The concerto is well known. As a composition—a musical creation—it has noble qualities; but it is a splendid example of the most illogical combination that great composers have ever sanctioned. Can anybody intelligently justify the union of the pianoforte with the orchestra, excepting in case of the former being used merely as an accessory? We think not. The effect of one performer upon an instrument whose function is never more than shadowy and suggestive, contending against the solid vigor of two score accompanists can only be to render the inferiority of the piano-forte doubly conspicuous. If the piano and orchestra play together, the former is unheard; so that the only possible expedient is to alternate the crash of the band with the tinkle of the soloist. Whatever value the piano-forte may possess as a concert instrument is destroyed by this unfair contrast. As it feebly emerges from the mass of sound that ushers it along there is nothing to be thought of in the way of parallel except the mountain laboring to bring forth the mouse. The great majority of piano-forte concertos with orchestral accompaniments have been written to afford their composers—mostly pianists—the opportunity of directly communicating with audiences. This single purpose they have doubtless appropriately served. The only positive artistic advantage to be derived from the combination is by the occasional employment of characteristic effects, precisely as the harp effects are introduced by ‘Berlioz’ [sic quotes] in his ‘Romeo and Juliet’ symphony.”
The second subscription concert of Theodore Thomas drew an even larger audience than the first one. The program was put together very well, with the exception of the vocal pieces. The dissatisfaction with the latter created some tension in the atmosphere that evening. There is no justification for placing Rossini between Schumann and Beethoven. Nothing against Rossini; he is, in his way, grand. With the Diebische Elster (La Gazza Ladra), however, he is nothing but a babbler.
Schumann’s grand Symphony in C major, rich in polyphonic beauty, matched well with Bach’s Toccata in F, since Schumann was often called the ‘modern Bach.’ He tried to meld Bach’s style into the modern romantic.
Whether the masterly instrumentation of the toccata was recognized and brought closer to the larger audience, we do not know. Nevertheless, the composition was clearly honored, in a more favorable way than several weeks ago at an organ concert [played by Mr. Hopkins] at Trinity Church. We do want to express, though, that the organ is a formidable instrument for works by Bach, and much better than what Mr. Esser can offer. A fine organist can present the old Bach and his toccata in all its grandeur and sublimity in a fashion that none of the orchestras of the world could manage together.
A delightful moment of the evening was the appearance of Mr. C. Wolfsohn, a pianist from Philadelphia. He performed the rather difficult Concerto in E Flat, by Beethoven, with sensitivity, accuracy and artistic value. Also, in the “Robert le Diable Fantasy,” by Liszt, he showed quite some skill. His success was highly honorable and well-deserved.
The female singer of this evening was one of the last American prima donnas, Mrs. van Zandt. She has a good voice, yet poor taste.