Picture courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl
With memories of the Salzburg Lulu still fresh—where Marc Albrecht’s conducting had been chiefly responsible for a great night of Berg—I was pleasantly surprised to find his name on the program for the first Academy Concert of the Bavarian State Orchestra’s orchestral season. (“Surprised” not because he was a late addition but because I tend to forget these kind of details before being reminded again when I arrive at the performance.)
On the program: first Sofial Gubaidulina’s Violin Concerto “Offertorium” and then Strauss’ Heldenleben. Soloist for the concerto was youngish Latvian Baiba Skride, one of the Nippon-babes, which means she gets to play the 1725 Stradivari "Wilhelmj". After the fragmented orchestral introduction on the theme of Bach’s Musical Offering, Gubaidulina has the strings slide about with the soloist in this score saturated with shimmering silver, earthy portamentos, and rubbery, wooshing brass utterances and always those woven-in references to Bach-via-Webern (Ricercata). With her piercing-elegant tone, flittering lightness, and rubato-tremolo mix veering from one to the other and back at any moment, the concerto was suitably becoming to Baiba Skride. If the cadenza of the first movement sounded more like a technical exercise than liberated musicality, the conjunction of cacophony and stilted violinism of the second movement was negotiated with aplomb. The highlight of the work is clearly the last movement, when calm, tension, and release—very nicely captured by soloist and orchestra—follow the explosive exclamation mark of a decibel-happy gong roll that marks the end of the second movement.
As unfamiliar as Gubaidulina is in Munich*—it met with uncurious indifference tinged by technical admiration for Skride—as familiar is Ein Heldenleben, being the daily bread of sorts for these Strauss-savvy Beervarians. They seemed sufficiently impressed after the performance, a feeling I could share only to the extend the very beginning and end where concerned. The strings started out enormously disciplined, for example, a fact possibly overlooked by the couple in front of me that could not contain its hearty laughter watching Marc Albrecht’s cartoonish contortions, looking rather like something Wilhelm Busch might have drawn: tall, lanky, and animated with more spirit than grace. Top-heavy, the orchestra’s upper voices assumed primary importance over the chugging rhythm beneath, which gave the Hero’s Life more Alpinesque qualities than it already has. (A side: if you like Richard Strauss’ Heldenleben—and especially if you can’t stand it—do listen to Emil von Reznicek’s Schlemil, Reznicek’s over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek masterpiece and the quintessential anti-Heldenleben.)
The performance, meanwhile, took a turn towards the pedestrian, especially when the first violinist couldn’t get the long solo parts to take off. Strauss sounding like a skillfully played Bartók étude is an interesting proposition, no doubt, but was not, I believe, intended on the part of either performer or composer on this occasion. The orchestral precision gone and little flavor left, one had to wait for redemption from the ruminating neither-nor until the late lyrical passages that stood out again for their feeling and carefully honed detail. The concertmaster, too, got in the spirit of things now—and the final chord was so meticulously crafted towards complete deliciousness that I felt as though I could hear an extra fifteen minutes of rehearsal just in those last few bars.
* This might change as Gubaidulina’s second violin concerto, “In tempus praesens”—with Gidon Kremer, is on the program of the Munich Phil later this year.