Many thanks to Robert R. Reilly for this review from the Kennedy Center.
I caught on to the glories of Christoph Eschenbach’s Bruckner some time ago when I came across the Koch CD live-recording of his 1996 performance of the Bruckner Second Symphony, with the Houston Symphony. He somehow conjured the players of that orchestra into sounding like the Berlin Philharmonic. Since his arrival in Washington DC, he has been performing similar magic with the National Symphony Orchestra.
Last February, I was completely taken by his performance of the Bruckner Ninth Symphony with the NSO (ionarts review here). At that time I wrote that Eschenbach “never surrendered the long line in the music to the abundant beauty.” On Thursday night, October 11, he did the opposite with the Bruckner Seventh. He surrendered to the beauty, and let the long line slacken in an extended performance of some 75 minutes. (Review of Bruckner 7 performances here.)
CDT, More of Eschenbach's Bruckner (ionarts, October 12)
Anne Midgette, National Symphony’s Eschenbach gives Bruckner a loving, original reading (Washington Post, October 12)
A second-class orchestra could not have pulled this off, nor could a conductor who didn’t totally trust Bruckner. As it was, the NSO’s strings delivered great warmth, and the brass section played magnificently both in the titanic outbursts required at the climaxes and in the delicate pianissimo passages of the second movement. There were moments where one could have wished for more abandon, but the measured pulse did not enervate the climaxes and the finale was particularly powerful.
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.2,
C.Eschenbach / Houston Symphony
The first part of the Thursday evening program was much less notable. The performance of the Wesendonck Lieder by Richard Wagner, as orchestrated by Hans Werner Henze, featured contralto Nathalie Stutzmann, last appearing here in a spring performance of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater (ionarts review here). She has a rich, caramel voice, but had trouble projecting, which lessens the effect of these songs. The fault here did not seem to be Eschenbach’s. He kept the NSO playing softly enough so as not to overwhelm her. In fact, there was some playing of exquisite delicacy that helped expose Henze’s particularly attractive orchestration of Im Treibhaus. Stutzmann's voice grew in strength, but not enough for me to comment on her diction from row W where it all arrived as a bit of a blur. RRR