CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Ionarts-at-Large: Munich Orchestras in May

available at Amazon
Schumann, Sy.3, Overt., Scherzo & Finale,
C.T., Philharmonia
DG 459 680

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon Grieg, PC et al.,
Andsnes, Kitayenko, Bergen PO
Virgin 61745

UK | DE | FR
Grieg’s Piano Concerto sandwiched by Schumann: with Rudolf Buchbinder as soloist and Christian Thielemann conducting his Munich Philharmonic, that has great promise. Promise, was made good on. The 1842 Overture, Scherzo, and Finale op.52 audibly contained spring; there is something lovely and gay about that early orchestral work of Schumann’s. Schumann’s planned title of “Symphoniette” would have perfectly conveyed the spirit of this cohesive work. It’s a long way from the brooding late Schumann that Heinz Holliger dubbed “crypt-music”. It is Thielemann’s recurring feat that he makes anything by Schumann—of whom he conducts seemingly everything from memory—sound like perfectly written music.

Rudolf Buchbinder veered seamlessly between the showmanship that the creamy romanticism of Grieg’s Piano Concerto provides and the enchanting grace that Tchaikovsky attested it. Most delightfully was the classical cool—almost Mozartean lightness—that Buchbinder casually and fleetly retrieved from what can otherwise end up a treacly affair.

Schumann’s Third Symphony opened so much on its toes, with every note threatening to trip over its predecessor, that one was sucked into the work without being able to think much about what was going on. Smooth, flexible, and with great determination, the orchestra followed Thielemann’s vague gestures to a T. His Schumann is not lean, not paired down, and in no way conforms to any current interpretive trend. As flexible as his tempos are, so his Schumann solidly stands like a romantic oak in the European orchestral tradition. The results are, lest musico-ideological peculiarities get in the way, usually exciting and sometimes even breathtaking.

available at Amazon
Brahms, Haydn Variations et al.,
Belohlávek, BBC SO,
HMC 901977

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Barber, VC et al.,
Shaham, Previn, LSO,

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Rachmaninoff, Sym. Dances etc.,
Jansons, St.P.PO
EMI 62810

UK | DE | FR
Johannes Brahms wrote his Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn in the picturesque lake-town of Tutzing, what’s now just a 30 minute suburban train ride outside of Munich. In the Haydn year 2009 that was Marin Alsop’s curtain opener for her Academy Concert of the Bavarian State Orchestra—Munich’s ‘opera band’ in May of this year.

Alsop at the podium often strikes me as mechanical with much of the energy that she so obviously puts into her conducting dissipating before it takes a hold of the musicians. More heat than light, one might say, characterizes her performances of the core romantic repertoire. Instances of dynamic extremes are dutifully observed where Alsop demands them, but that did not cache the lack of liveliness. The threat of familiarity lurked everywhere.

Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with James Ehnes—music that lends itself to noodling right through—saw the orchestra more alert, but was carried by the soloist. The result was genuine excitement and involvement, bringing a bit of rarely heard (but perfectly accessible) American music to the German audience. Marin Alsop may dislike being thought of as a conductor of American repertoire. In fact, she thinks herself primarily known for her standard romantic repertoire in Europe. (If so, it must be because programmers won’t let her conduct the good, but sadly audience-repelling, American stuff.) Whatever the reason, there is rarely a performance of Alsop where I don’t get the ever-same perception: Just above average in the standards, but reliably superb in American classics.

That said, the Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, themselves dancing on the thin line between inspired and circus-music, were very much above average, with the saxophone and assorted other woodwinds in colorful interplay and Alsop’s diligence translating into something altogether entertaining: A credit to Rachmaninoff, Alsop, and the orchestra.

available at Amazon
Schubert, Mass in E-b,
Mackerras, Dresden StaKap.

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Schubert, Mass in E-flat,
Kubelik, BRSO

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Schumann, Nachtlied et al.,
Gardiner, ORR,
Archiv 457660

UK | DE | FR
Nikolaus Harnoncourt was supposed to conduct the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Schubert’s E-flat Mass earlier this May. Health reasons sadly prevented him from appearing, but the replacement Daniel Harding, even if his popularity with orchestra and audience is waning, was an impressive patch. After seeing Harding struggle to get the LSO in line during Bruckner rehearsal and performance, it is not difficult to imagine why he enjoys working with an orchestra that is—usually—more responsive and not only quick to master a score (at which London orchestras excel) but also to follow an interpretation.

If not much of an interpretation revealed itself in Brahms’ Haydn Variations, the plainly played result was still considerably more enjoyable listening than the Bavarian State Orchestra’s go at it. For one, it introduced the idea of the Variations appropriately serving as a concert overture, not a sedative.

Schumann’s Nachtmusik–three stanzas by Friedrich Hebbel, worked out to a lengthy piece evocative of the warm dusk of a Heidelberg night—brought out the Bavarian Radio Chorus and they performed up to their predictably terrific, painstakingly precise standards. After hearing his poem ‘reborn’ in musical guise, Hebbel wrote to Schumann that not until hearing the latter’s setting did he fully grasp his own poem. Why is it such a rarity in concert and on record?

The E-flat Mass of Schubert is truly one of the great masses. Neither ostentatiously religious nor of sacred bombast, it’s such a subtle statement of personal faith that the listener’s inclination towards religious aspects—not any composer’s intent—determines whether we respond to it as a sacred or purely musical work. Good recordings are plentiful, but I like two particularly well: Charles Mackerras’ contribution is the most recent addition and was recorded with the Dresden Staatskapelle in the gorgeous acoustic of the Frauenkirche in Dresden (Carus 83249. The other, forty years older and also a live recording, has Rafael Kubelik conducting the BRSO and BR Chorus at the Herkulessaal and a particularly delightful Gundula Janowitz among the soloists (Audite 92541).

Harding’s performance was also recorded (for live broadcast), and the pleasant result perhaps worthy of being released on disc, one day. Extolling the BR Chorus’ virtues again and again reads like lazy hyperbole, except they really are that good. At least the orchestra’s horns added an element of fallibility amid nuanced dynamics and marvelous cohesion. Werner Güra’s natural, smallish, and very efficiently driven tenor voice has an understated way of standing out: Strain, effort, or artifice are completely absent—and if he sometimes tend towards the bland, the former qualities are so rare in tenors that it makes him a tonic for the ears. Almost like a lighter (and completely untroubled) version of baritone Christian Gerhaher. With soprano Christiane Oelze and tenor Markus Schäfer, the high voices were the vocal focal point; Andreas Hörl and Elisabeth von Magnus unobtrusively complemented the chorus.


1 comment:

Munich expat said...

It's great to have so many cultural events in Munich. I am so happy to be an expat in Munich!