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Notes from the 2012 Dresden Music Festival ( 5 )

Dresden's Bruckner and their Thielemann

I am in beautiful Dresden – birthplace of the coffee filter – for the annual three-week Music Festival that has taken place since 1978. After Mozart-joys, Malkovichean divertissement, Bach despairs and delights, it was time for a concert of the Dresden Staatskapelle – the musical crown jewel of this musically well endowed city – under their new music director Christian Thielemann.

The intelligent program that night took place at the Summer Palace in Dresden’s Großer Garten where Pierre-Laurent Aimard performed a clever medley of Schubert, Kurtág, Liszt and Ligeti. But sometimes brains are not as important as looks – or rather sound – and Thielemann in Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony with his orchestra is too promising, too beautiful, to centrally “Dresden”, and ultimately too prestigious to miss. Especially when the point of the stay in Dresden is to get a big whiff of Saxonia.

available at AmazonA.Bruckner, Symphony No.8,
C.Thielemann / Dresden StKp
Profil Hänssler

Incidentally: An earlier such whiff had already been gotten at a charming lunch and factory-tour of the state-owned (and subsidized) vineyard Schloss Wackerbarth, confirmed by locals to be “the biggest and definitely the loudest” vineyard in the region. Given such a northern exposure, Saxonian white wines can be perfectly wonderful and in this case provided adequate pre-Brucknerian lubrication.

But back to Dresden’s Semperoper and Bruckner: This combination of conductor, players, and composer was – in a concert – the reason why this step in Thielemann’s career ought to be happy one not just for the moment, but lastingly so. After ultimately dissatisfactory years under Fabio Luisi, and knowing CT well from Bayreuth where the Staatskapelle fields the lion share of the Festival-band, the orchestra will be able to appreciate decisive, well fitting musical leadership above all.

In many ways this concert, despite being a victim of high expectations, illustrated why and how1. Thielemann shaped the music lovingly, getting tender transitions from his players that were as soft as butter. You could tell what he was looking for, a tonal quality of Rubenesque saturation here, and in the muted colors of Andrew Wyeth elsewhere. Alas, for at least the first two movements he wasn’t quite getting everything he asked for, and the playing wasn’t all that terrific. It took the third movement for excellence to arise, slowly, along with the theme which enveloped the audience just the way it should. The finale is so powerful that it can be overwhelming in such a fine performance, even without a palpable sense of Bruckner-as-fluid architecture. After 85 minutes and a brief moment of true silence, Thielemann received honeymoon adulations from the audience and orchestra alike.

1 A concert of the Bruckner Eighth is given further significance by the fact that it was such a program in September of 2009 – available on PROFIL Hänssler – that proved the nuptial spark between Thielemann and the Staatskapelle.