Among great orchestras, the Gewandhaus of Leipzig seems more intent on making good music than making a big, impressive sound. Last Wednesday night, in a Symphony Hall performance led by its conductor, Kurt Masur, this creed was much in evidence.
Masur has built a considerable reputation here in Boston, during numerous guest conducting assignments with the Boston Symphony, as a master of structural thinking and inspired attention to detail. His Boston performances have erupted with power.
While his own orchestra - the venerable Gewandhaus, which has been conducted by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Nikisch, and a host of others - lacks the sonic opulence of the BSO, it shows itself very well equipped indeed to produce convincing, memorable music.
With much of the plush velvet lining one gets in most American orchestras stripped away, Beethoven's First Symphony seemed almost to be seen in X-ray, with all the steel structure in relief. Yet, there was a grace here, as well. The piece went with an affectionate power that engaged one from the first.
Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, which was premiered by this orchestra under the legendary Arthur Nikisch 100 years ago, came off with far more romantic fervor, as it certainly should have. The orchestra produced, not exactly a Wagnerian sea of sound, but anyway a flowing force. There was power to deliver the symphony's strokes of fate.
And there was always the strong hand of Kurt Masur to make sure they fell at the moment of puissance.