David Danzmayr Leads Disappointing Beethoven Seventh Symphony

The young Austrian conductor David Danzmayr brought a fairly conventional program to the San Diego Symphony Thursday (Feb. 23), opening with Waltz King Johann Strauss, Jr.’s signature “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” and closing with Beethoven’s always exciting Seventh Symphony. Between these two familiar pillars, Danzmayr offered the late Vilém Tauský’s “Coventry: Meditation for String Orchestra,” a rarely performed elegy composed after the destruction of that English city in 1940 by the German Air Force.

David Danzmayr [photo courtesy of the artist]

I was most impressed with his meticulously detailed and elegant, stylish approach to the familiar Strauss waltz. Unlike many a cursory pops concert once-over of the “Blue Danube,” Danzmayr held the orchestra accountable to the composer’s myriad dynamic contrasts that define the waltz’s carefully designed formal structure, although he was less successful in getting the orchestra to give him the flexibility of tempos he called for, especially those rapid accelerandos that unleash after a gentle pause or rubato.

But the real test of Danzmayr’s conducting prowess was the Beethoven Seventh, and he proved a major disappointment in that role. In the more lively sections—and the Seventh Symphony is full of them—he tended to over conduct, adding wild, slashing left-hand movements to his already hyper-active right hand, a commotion that certainly spurred the orchestra, but did not produce a tight, balanced ensemble. And in the serene Poco sostenuto that opens the Symphony, he could not create that necessary anticipatory tension that so beautifully sets up the explosive Vivace that follows it.

Left to its own devices, the orchestra had a few worthy moments, notably the delicate cello section beginning of the second movement, followed by plangent themes in the violas and cellos playing in magnificent consort. And the orchestra deserves credit for carrying off the conductor’s breakneck tempo of the Scherzo with aplomb.

It was impossible to avoid comparing Danzmayr’s undisciplined work on the podium with the calm authority and meticulous specificity of the young Israeli conductor Lahav Shani, who graced the local podium earlier this month leading with great success a far more demanding program of Prokofiev, Haydn and Bartók.

Concerning Vilém Tauský’s “Coventry,” I would say the reason this overly modest piece is unknown is because there is nothing to it, save some somber meandering that weaves in a traditional Czech hymn tune here and there. Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” an elegiac, somber short work based on an irresistible melody and was written only a few years before Tauský’s opus, says everything poor Tauský was attempting to communicate with far greater eloquence.

[themify_box style=”shadow” ]This concert by the San Diego Symphony was given on Thursday, February 23, 2017, in the Jacobs Music Center’s Copley Symphony Hall in downtown San Diego. The orchestra’s next concert will feature guest conductor Markus Stenz and violinist Augustin Hadelich March 3-5, 2017, in the same venue.[/themify_box]

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  1. Darby Hinshaw on February 24, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    Two thousand people probably disagree with this review, judging from the audience’s enthusiastic response, and the orchestra’s tremendous energy.

    • s on January 6, 2024 at 11:23 am

      I just heard him play the 7th in SLC and it was similar to this review, I felt like he missed the mark. The second movement lost it’s beauty due to “break neck speed”

  2. Peter D on February 26, 2017 at 6:43 am

    I have also been puzzled by this review and a similar one in the SDUT. In the post-concert interview, Danzmayr commented on how it is important to play this music on the edge and this is also what I have head that night. I have noticed that a few musicians in the orchestra applauded him at the end and I suppose that they must have liked playing with him. Also a good sign.

  3. Ken Herman on February 26, 2017 at 7:56 am

    I applaud the San Diego Symphony’s efforts to bring new audiences to hear the orchestra play, and they filled this non-subscription concert hall. Bravo! Yes, this audience was excited by the Beethoven Seventh Symphony–it is that kind of work. But the more important matter at hand–now that the current Music Director Jahja Ling is leaving at the end of the spring–is evaluating the numerous guest conductors who have been chosen to grace the San Diego Symphony podium. Some, perhaps all, are being considered as the next Music Director, so evaluating their skill on the podium is the issue. In my opinion, maestro Danzmayr proved less skilled as a conductor than most of the guest conductors we have experienced over the last two years, from the esteemed Edo de Waart to younger conductors such as Mirga Grazinyté-Tyla, Cristian Măcelaru, and Lahav Shani, to mention just a few who come to mind.

  4. Peter D on February 26, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Yes and this is also how I read both reviews. The fact that the two local critics who reviewed this concert didn’t like it is worth pondering for the San Diego Symphony management, but so is also the fact that a lot of the musicians seemed to have enjoyed working with Danzmayr to the point that one of them felt compelled to defend him both times in the comment sections of said reviews. And when it comes to judging the skills of a conductor, it seems to me that nobody is better suited than those who play under him.

  5. Ken Herman on February 27, 2017 at 12:18 am

    This is not always the case. When Lorin Maazel took the post of Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, he was the overwhelming choice of the players. They loved him. Yet his tenure turned out to be the most lackluster in the 2nd half of the 20th century for that (once) illustrious orchestra.

  6. KMW on March 3, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    Martin Bernheimer’s most recent review of the NY Phil w/Gilbert cnducting: it’s the acoustics, not the muscians.

  7. Ken Herman on March 4, 2017 at 7:18 am

    Bernheimer has been reviewing for so long–centuries it seems–that he is easily distracted. Perhaps he is just tired of writing about music but can’t kick the habit.

  8. Kraig Cavanaugh on March 4, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    The SD Symphony continues to surprise us with very good “live performances” under the batons of all these guest conductors. It has indeed been very pleasant and exciting to experience. I wonder if having perpetual guest conductors rather appointing a permanent maestro could be a viable option for the organization’s musical vitality?

  9. Ken Herman on March 4, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    Kraig, there is something to be said for the kind of discipline a resident conductor brings to an orchestra. Much of the improvement of the San Diego Symphony in the last decade–not all, but a good portion–has come from Ling’s steady tutelage of the orchestra, something that only comes from regular work with an ensemble. He has also been a positive influence in selecting new hires, especially first-chair players. His favorite repertory mostly bores me, but it would be churlish to gainsay his effect on the caliber of playing we now enjoy from the orchestra.

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