Although not technically part of it, the 8th annual open air concert on the Odeonsplatz fit well with the city wide celebration of Munich’s 850th birthday. Introduced by the mayor, the two great Munich orchestras (the third is kept busy with the Opera Festival) presented back to back concerts. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach with Rudolf Buchbinder played on Saturday July 5th and “the city’s own” MPhil was led Christian Thielemann the following day. Thielemann, who led his orchestra in that event for the first time, may not be a fan of “events” such as this, but even he could not resist playing in front of 8000 listeners who came out to listen on a comfortably cool Sunday evening.
For the audience, many of which may have heard the Philharmonic for the first time, he chose repertoire staples from the orchestra’s tour-program: Richard Strauss’ Don Juan and Brahms’ First Symphony. For a little added star-power Adrianne Pieczonka sang Tatyana’s letter scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. An appropriate morsel to play on a warm summer night with the stars above the historic buildings that surround the central Odeonsplatz.
Don Juan was given a flowing, routinely sensuous performance – with the amplified sound intruding little on the details. The Brahms was typical Thielemann: Mighty and smooth, lovingly cared for and indulgent. It’s a style that benefits from live performance: What sounds questionably lugubrious on record sounds absolutely terrific live. Friends of light and flaky Brahms might not be swayed, but Thielemann manages his Brahms in those tones of dark varnished oak without being ponderous or heavy handed. It is that the difference between less skilled conductors who equate slow tempos with gravitas and passion – and those whose ability allows them to go for a broad luxury of which the slow tempo is merely the result. The audience – perfectly quiet and happily applauding – wasn’t deterred even by the onset of rain to listen to the Meistersinger Prelude encore.
Burlington native Adrianne Pieczonka, who has made Munich fall in love with her with her tremendous Marschallin in Strauss’ Rosenkavalier, was a highlight, indeed. 16000 enthralled ears were convinced – if convincing still needed to be done – of how great an opera Eugene Onegin is. Amplification contributed a slight metallic harshness to her upper register, but the essence of an engaged, passionate Tatyjana was delivered just right. Perhaps youthful naiveté was given short shrift in the process of making the music sound as beautiful as can be (also the one criticism that applied to Renée Fleming’s Tatyana at the MET), but who will hold that against her? The lush support of the Munich Philharmonic exhibited the opera conductor Thielemann at his best and made one yearn for the Munich Philharmonic to be once again part of the Opera Festival as it had been for 20 years until 1982.
The encore – “Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen” op.27/4 – powerfully suggested Richard Strauss as Pieczonka’s natural territory. Just the piece to make the Strauss-loving Munich audience eat out of the palm of her hand.