Nuremberg’s 1960s Meistersinger Hall sits at the edge of town: an athletic stone’s throw away from the Nazi’s massive Congress Hall that was built on the infamous parading grounds, two years after Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will was filmed there. The Meistersinger Hall isn’t as bombastic as the 1930s predecessor, but big enough to seat an audience of 2100 in the main hall which manages to look bigger on the inside than the whole building from the outside.
Fresh off their stop in Hamburg, and without rehearsal, the NSO delved into a ritardando-besotted yet fluid Egmont Overture, marked firstly by a joyously sweet entry of the winds, then by terrifically cohesive strings, thirdly a robust rich sound. Denoted by Christoph Eschenbach’s penchant for putting down musical signal posts, it bode well for Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. Less merry under Eschenbach than Strauss might have intended, these pranks were focused on individual voices, not ‘music’ in the moment; the ‘long line’, however, on the music as a whole, rather than drama. Performed because the tour’s Ersatz-soloist for Julia Fischer couldn’t play Nuremberg, it was less a story told than a miniature concerto for orchestra; coy and a bit gawky at times, like a clumsy dancer, hard driven by a suddenly speed-embracing Eschenbach, and a work-appropriate orchestral squabble of instruments rather than clichéd double-cream Straussian sumptuousness.
“How did you like the slow movement in the Brahms?” “Which one?” If there was a strong conception behind Eschenbach’s take on the Second Symphony, in less rich sound than Beethoven, it might have been something about speed limits. For at least two movement it felt like a senior Floridian couple driving in front of you in their Oldsmobile Cutlass. The following Allegretto grazioso, Brahms at his untroubled loveliest, provided the surreptitious tension that Eschenbach then released in a zany fourth movement, which swerved dangerously near the finale, but just managed to stay on the road for a loud and rousing finish.
The audience—but not, not the 2100—lapped it up gratefully and enthusiastically and were rewarded with encores from a grab deep, or maybe not-so-deep, into the bon-bon bag: Smetana’s Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote Medley (known to select European audiences as The Dance of the Comedians) and the Eugene Onegin Polonaise to energize the Nuremburghers.
Unconfirmed factoids: Nuremberg’s industry is 74% gingerbread based and Nuremberg supplies more than 93% of the world’s Christmas market clichés.