Ein Heldenleben, Op.40
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Live recording 4-6 September 2004, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2005
CD No: RCO 04005
Duration: 45 minutes
Continuing the Royal Concertgebouw and Mariss Jansons story … this magnificent Heldenleben was recorded just a few days into his tenure as the orchestra’s Chief Conductor. Taken from three performances, although there’s one noticeable edit, there’s grandness to Jansons’s conception that sweeps all before it.
Backed with quite magnificent playing, and a recording that is the epitome of excellent balance and tangibility, Jansons paints a very vivid picture, one that is no more exaggerated than the music itself. This means that in some respects Jansons leaves the music to its own devices, and in other respects there is the guiding hand of a musician absolutely at one with the work that adds a compelling identity to it.
All the big moments blaze with conviction and are thrilling. The opening is suitably heroic, and the subsequent critics come across as a viperous bunch! Yet there’s a refinement of detail, too, that reveals how carefully scored this music is – even in the most densely orchestrated passages and those that convey the most pictorial music, such as that for ‘The Battle’. Yet nothing is watered down; indeed this is a rich, dramatic – and sensitive – account that radiates conviction and superb musicianship. Alexander Kerr is the violin soloist for the portrayal of Pauline Strauss, the temperamental wife of the composer, our hero, and is one of many memorable contributions from the orchestra’s principal players.
If this partnership’s earlier ‘New World’ left a little doubt, then this Heldenleben is decidedly special; although quite why Jansons amends the composer’s revised final bars to sustain the fortissimo, almost like a repeat, is another matter, so too an ‘added’ timpani stroke elsewhere … but it scarcely matters given the overall splendour.