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Notes from the 2013 Salzburg Festival ( 10 )
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra 1 • Mariss Jansons

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra 1 • Mariss Jansons

A Russian Pair of Sixes

A pair of Russian Sixes came from Mariss Jansons and his Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in their first of two Salzburg concerts: Shostakovich’s and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony each, related by their key (B minor), nationality, and number, but little else.

The lower strings of the BRSO opened the Shostakovich with that rare total cohesion that has its very own, immediately distinct sound. The effect was all the more impressive for the swift clip at which Jansons led the Munich orchestra into the performance on stage of the Grosse Festspielhaus, Sunday evening August 4th. Shostakovich (“DSCH”) under Jansons is predictably special, like no other composer in his repertoire*. That ability, which he has displayed with every orchestra he’s conducted Shostakovich with (see his splendid international DSCH-cycle for EMI!), comes in especially handy in the Sixth Symphony which is one of the less obvious creatures even amid DSCH’s heterogeneous symphonic output.

available at Amazon
DSCH, Symphony No.6,
K.Sanderling / Berlin SO
Berlin Classics

The BRSO, one of the most refined bodies of sound that the international orchestra scene has to offer, showed itself in snappy form and lavished its qualities onto the listener... qualities that become particularly obvious when they are playing abroad (and outside the dispiriting Herkulessaal), in direct proximity of other splendid and well reputed bands. After the long Largo of Shostakovich’s symphony disappears into nothingness, the two scratch-your-head short movements move in: With piccolo and clarinet cartwheels, full of childishness and fun and vitality the Allegro; the Presto with intermittent climacticious™ bombast. There was ransacking and daintily chummy, romping and galumphing fun in that finale—a finale that is all the more charming the less seriously one takes it.

After a straggler flute arrived on stage, the orchestra was ready to launch Tchaikovsky’s Sixth. This was a clean and carefully enunciated Pathetique, mercifully devoid of schmaltz, which suits this work (or at least my predilections for it) very well. The first movement was ferociously driven, and Jansons looked healthy, elegant, and was clearly in his element, which he always seems to be during Salzburg summers when he proudly, even vainly gets to show off his toy. The flute section was especially worth showing off; from principal to last chair an amazing bunch of players, without any hiss or extraneous air, virtuosic and rich in sound… That was all the more notable when compared to the Vienna Philharmonic from earlier that morning. The very grateful flute solo in the Shostakovich benefited from that as much as the piccolo parts in the Tchaikovsky. Only the twice slightly flubbing brass deducted a bit from the orchestra’s reputation as ever (coldy) perfectionist.

Picture courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Silvia Lelli. Detail - click image to see entire photo.

* Excepting someone like Rodion Shchedrin, where there simply isn’t enough available comparison between him and Gergiev, the other only prominent Shchedrin champion I’m aware of.