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Ionarts-at-Large: Thielemann's Last Round of Munich Brahms

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.

available at Amazon
J.Brahms, Symphonies,
G.Wand / NDRSO

All the gorgeous phrases were enthusiastically indulged in the altogether tender fourth movement (up to the thunderous and furiously paced outbreak that drives the finale home), which pitched this Brahms as a musical proposition miles away from the Wagner-channeled Romanto-drome Brahms of Christoph Eschenbach. It was equally far from the lightness and natural playfulness of Günter Wand.

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!


Martin said...

The Wand Brahms is intriguing, but expensive. Remastered too and I'm not sure how much I trust RCA (whoever that is these days) to do a good job. 3 & 4 are still available at Amazon -- very steeply discounted too.

jfl said...

I wouldn't have put it up there (well, in this case I wouldn't have) if it weren't the bee's knees and then some! [All the re-masterings in that RCA series--Beethoven, Bruckner, Schubert--are terrific and a clear improvement on previous incarnations.] From the content to the re-mastering, this is simply the most musical Brahms; packed with restorative powers where elsewhere Brahms just sits or plods or grumbles. I've, since discovering Wand's, accepted other Brahms cycles into my life again (Dip Your Ears, No. 100), but this one still reigns supreme.

I'm more into the physical thing than downloads... but if you follow the link, downloads can be had by changing the format to "MP3 Downloads". The cheapest used version is available from AmazoneFrance.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why I was under the impression that CT had one more year in Munich before maazel takes over.

And the MP blew it hard, first with CT, and now with Petrenko signed in Oslo...

jfl said...

Why... was V.Petrenko ever considered at all in Munich? I don't remember him guesting down here.

Martin said...

Oh I hadn't revisited this page until now, but I did get the cheap RCA Wand 3rd and 4th. The sound is so-so, especially compared to the remastered Bruckner 8th, but the playing is great with a wonderful dancing lilt where appropriate. Brahms rhythmic approach is idiosyncratic and rather difficult to play well -- or so I've been told.