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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 9 )
Anton Bruckner Cycle • Bruckner IX

Philharmonia Orchestra 1 • Dohnányi • Camilla Tilling

Phully Harmonias

Above and below pictures (details) courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Silvia Lelli. Click for the whole picture.

With the Te Deum being out of the running already, at this year’s Salzburg Festival, the program of the Philharmonia Orchestra (that most consistently excellent of London’s orchestras) was stuffed with Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. That work, too, goes into the direction of lachrymose farewell, granted, but programmed ahead of the Bruckner it’s not bound to color the appreciation of the Symphony. And it’s an ever appreciated—anniversary or not—gorgeous nod to Strauss.

Behind the wheel of the Philharmonia on Thursday, August 7th, was their former Principal Conductor and now “Honorary Conductor for Life”, Christoph von Dohnányi. The orchestra had performed the piece a few times before heading to Salzburg with it… but that was with Eva-Maria Westbroek who had to cancel her Festival appearance. In place of her Dutch colleague, Swede Camilla Tilling filled in, and how! Soaring, not so much with ease as with drama, she rose above the orchestra which supported her with ever right dynamic shadings to a musical and malleable whole. The orchestral warmth, the honed ensemble playing provided a down-right feathery bed of sounds for Camilla Tilling, who was dressed—obviously!—to catch men’s eyes. It complemented her voice, neither of the very powerful, nor the thin-and-cutting type, very well. If it didn’t sound so darn obvious, it’d say it was a very soprano-ish interpretation, and certainly a wonderfully moving one. Now if the text had been made to be understood a little more easily, too, there wouldn’t have been any quibbling possible at all.

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F.Schubert, "Nachtviolen"
C.v.Dohnányi / Cleveland
For all of Tilling’s splendor, she very nearly got outshone by the concert master’s solo in “Beim Schlafengehen”. That challenging part was not just spot on, accurate and with perfect intonation (one always hopes for that, but usually with gritted teeth of doubtful anticipation), but with such longing and such soulful expression and on top of that with a darkly veneered tone to match that it simply could not have been bettered.

Then for Bruckner: The absolutely controlled performance awed with its opening: with the orchestral voices perfectly separate (not in the least abrupt, but instead with finely rounded edges!), the blocks of sound emerged organically from the most subtly, softly shimmering carpet of strings. This most immediately emotionally appealing of the Bruckner Ninths I have heard in concert was sonorous, warm, featured glorious brass and a timpanist inclined to dare thwack away wherever thwacking was in order: A delight easily on par with the previous excellent performances of Bruckner II & VIII. Altogether mouthwatering stuff from the Philharmonia, immediately spurring one on to make sure not to miss their follow up Saturday matinee with the current principal conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen.