PICTURE OF MARISS JANSONS © ASTRID ACKERMANN
Many thanks to Robert R. Reilly for this review from the Kennedy Center.
According to the Playbill program notes for the April 12, 2016, concert at the Kennedy Center, the Washington Performing Arts organization has not sponsored the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra here since 2003. From the caliber of playing on display in Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto and Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, that has been our substantial loss. Under conductor Mariss Jansons, the level of orchestral execution in all departments was superlative. They are welcome in my town anytime.
First, a side note on concert programming. I sometimes wonder if there is not a secret, worldwide, Spectre-like organization of programmers who meet to plot the frequent repetition of repertory. Less than a year ago, I heard the Mahler Fifth with the NSO, and less than two years ago I heard the Korngold Violin Concerto, also with the NSO. I’m not complaining in either case, as violinist Gil Shaham gave the Korngold a beautiful performance and Christoph Eschenbach’s Mahler is always worth hearing. It makes you wonder though, doesn’t it?
In fact, last year’s Mahler Fifth was paired with the Sibelius Violin Concerto, played by tonight’s soloist in the Korngold, Leonidas Kavakos. The time I had heard Kavakos before that was in a program in Ljubljana with the Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto, which was coupled with (guess what?) Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Are you beginning to see the global dimensions of this? If it happens again, I’m calling Interpol.
And now a note on the program. I think it makes good sense to put the Korngold and Mahler together because they both come from the same Viennese milieu – albeit one via Hollywood, the other not. Both inhabit the First Viennese School, though from Korngold one could not imagine the Second Viennese School, while from Mahler, one could. Also, it was interesting to hear the Korngold first because, listening to the Mahler afterwards, I exclaimed to myself several times, “aha, Korngold had obviously heard that.” Then there is the historical association: Korngold, who as a youth had met Mahler, dedicated his Violin Concerto to Mahler’s widow, Alma.
Be that as it may, it was a pleasure to hear Kavakos in the Korngold, though my first impression — one of warmth rather than brilliance — was that his razor sharpness and intonation were slightly off from what I had heard before. The tone soon improved, however, and by the last movement he was blazing away with complete confidence. He had great partners in Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, which played with crystal clarity, precision, and energy. Though most of the themes in the concerto came from Korngold’s brilliant movie scores, no one indulged in any Hollywood sentimentality. This is not to say there was any beauty lacking — the glorious sound of the orchestra was like walking into the Golden Screen. The enthusiasm of the audience impelled Kavakos to offer a charming encore, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, composed by Francisco Tárrega for guitar, transcribed for violin by Ruggiero Ricci. You can hear a much younger Kavakos playing it here.
Anne Midgette, How a great orchestra started its U.S. tour: Carefully. (Washington Post, April 13)
While not terribly emotive, the performance was nonetheless visceral in its impact. If you wonder what Mahler meant when he marked the score “like a whirlwind” or “Moving Stormily, With the Greatest Vehemence,” Jansons provided a very compelling answer. Of course, there are many ways of doing this symphony, as Klaus Tennstedt and others have brilliantly shown. But Jansons has clearly demonstrated that this is one of them.
It hardly need be said that every department of the BRSO covered itself in glory — what a deep, gorgeous sound! The strings were exceptional, the brass outstanding, but so were the winds, and the timpani…
I have decided not to call Interpol after all.