This was the second of two Richard Strauss 150-anniversary concerts in which Mark Elder and the London Symphony Orchestra paired his music with that of his musical idol, Mozart. Like the first, this was just as much of a treat.
In the ‘Prague’ Symphony, Elder showed himself at ease with the Classical composer, securing an ideal balance between symphonic tension and gracefulness – far harder to achieve in Mozart than is often credited. However, Elder also drew darker shadows from the LSO in those passages which turn to the minor – principally in the Adagio introduction and in the Andante second movement. The Presto finale was fairly stately – though here, as elsewhere, there was a nod to authentic style with little or no vibrato. This relaxed tempo gave the chattering wind dialogues a chance to speak eloquently and breathe. Drama was certainly present, though perhaps not quite the hustle and bustle of The Marriage of Figaro with which this Symphony is virtually contemporary.
The LSO does not very often have the chance to perform opera, but is no stranger to the orchestral music of Richard Strauss, and were at-one in realising his lush Romantic idiom in four extracts from Der Rosenkavalier, especially with Elder guiding the players through the ebb and flow of the action being accompanied. Apart from a plethora of exquisite detail and beautiful sonorities, he constructed a magnificent edifice within each scene, comprising the beginning and end of Act One, the ‘Presentation of the Rose’ in Act Two, and the conclusion of Act Three, condensing the opera’s central love-triangle among the Marschallin, Octavian and Sophie, only bypassing the involvement of the other significant character, Baron Ochs.
Sarah Connolly, as Octavian, showed all the youthful ardour and naïve passion of this role, a recreation of Mozart’s Cherubino. His new object of devotion, Sophie, was sung innocently and charmingly by Lucy Crowe, which is not to damn with faint praise, because it is always hard to know how to make her sufficiently interesting musically, but not so as to upstage the Marschallin. That did not happen here, since Anne Schwanewilms gave great dignity to that character, succumbing to sympathetic self-pity but not to resentment or jealousy. Her monologues from the close of Act One were properly introverted and withdrawn, and there was even something rather chilling about her reflection upon the passage and effects of time.
Although the singers were vocally integrated in the final ‘Trio’, they sounded somewhat wiry, and so it was left to conductor and orchestra to carry through its sumptuous mixture of regret, reconciliation and sexual passion. Again, Elder showed masterful command of structure by not vulgarising the already ripe harmonic palette but patiently allowing the music to develop its own natural momentum towards its glorious culmination. On this showing, let us hope that Sir Mark will return to more Strauss opera soon.