Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jansons in London – Mahler & Shostakovich

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93

Bo Skovhus (baritone)

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Mariss Jansons

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 6 March, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

This latest Shell Classic International concert included a parsimonious first half in terms of playing-time, the (in this performance) just-under eighteen minutes of Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” was not only shorter than the ensuing interval but also laid bare the current regrettable trend of eschewing ‘overtures’ from programmes. Someone at Southbank Centre might have spotted this discrepancy and got on the phone to Munich.

Bo Skovhus. Photograph: www.copenhagenartists.comQuality before quantity, of course, yet Bo Skovhus’s singing lacked colour and suffered some intonational problems as well as gravelly timbres with the very lowest notes. In a somewhat stilted account, to which Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra were immaculate if rather objective partners, there was little to be involved in, although one admired Skovhus’s care for the words, even if the sentiments expressed in them seemed to have little resonance, and his unforced singing certainly had plenty of ear-catching pianissimos; yet the sense of loss, anger and contrasting delight in nature went for very little.

Jansons is these days dining-out on too repetitive a repertoire, at least as far as London is concerned; it was only at last year’s BBC Proms that Shostakovich 10 featured (with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra), and here it was again. That said, this Bavarian account was immensely impressive, fastidiously prepared.

Mariss Jansons. Photograph: BRJansons’s success was to unfold the work as a true symphony rather than as an overt sequence of messages and ciphers, the long first movement distilled at a spot-on Moderato, expressive, dynamic, and blessed with some outstanding woodwind-playing; the grinding climax – during which Jansons invested enough rhetoric to really open-up the personal outcry – was seamlessly turned into, and became an inevitable outpouring of emotion growing out of the opening despondency and subsequent quizzical diversions. The scherzo – whether a portrait of Stalin or not – was deliberately paced, trenchant, revealing of explosive inflexible anger, and suitably unremitting.

The third movement can at times seem uncertain as to its place in the symphony’s overall scheme, and on its own terms somewhat disparate. Jansons brought a sense of rightness to it, searching out folkloric and ethnic associations, the ensuing flare-up more belonging to the whole than it can often seem. To open the finale, the Bavarian string-players continued to bring depth of sonority and a communicative heart, and Jansons didn’t speed through the fast passages, rather he had his focus on where the music is going and not peaking until it got there, although he might have rammed home the coda with more clout and incision to underline the ambiguity of this seemingly joyful conclusion.

This was a notable performance for all the familiarity of Jansons’s interpretation. At least the encores were fresh in their appearance, a segment of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty offering balm and played with beguiling inwardness, and a high-kicking entr’acte from Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” was pornographic in its vividness.

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