It’s the second half of the 2010/11 season and every concert with Christian Thielemann and the Munich Philharmonic comes with a touch of “Good-Bye”; a wistful note for most (especially among the audience and the musically sensitive players), a hint of relief for a few (in the administration). That’s especially notable when he is busy preparing some of his favorites. Like Brahms. He couldn’t have been happy taking over his orchestra immediately after playing Mahler when all four Brahms Symphonies—partly at home, partly on tour through Germany—were due. (To paraphrase him: “It takes me weeks to clean up their sound , after Mahler”.) But there he was, on the second-to-last weekend in January, conducting Brahms’ Second and Third Symphony.
The careful calibration of sound, Thielemann’s foremost trademark, stood out immediately when the darkly muted homogenous brass emerges in the Second Symphony while technical issues, meanwhile, had not yet all been tended to. In fact, throughout most of that symphony one best clung to sound, because the calmly flowing second movement was perfectly appreciable, but hardly exciting. For all the fine-tuning that may have gone on in the first three movements, there was little that roused even a mildly jaded concertgoer. Sparks did not begin to fly until the Finale.
G.Wand / NDRSO
Brahms Third Symphony, now that orchestra and audience had woken up, began the way the Second ended: with the players digging in and filling the reluctant Gasteig acoustic with a merry noise. With tons of tension, protractions of weight, beautiful brass chorales, accentuated attacks, and every bit of rhythm teased out, this sounded truly rehearsed. The second movement still came across as idyllic, but no longer soporific, and after just a bit of a lull in the third movement the Finale—rhythmically ambiguous—came off as if it was the easiest thing in the world to conduct or play. What a terrific way to jolt a Brahms night from average to superb!