BBC Symphony Orchestra/Bělohlávek Christine Brewer [Tannhäuser … Joseph Marx Songs … An Alpine Symphony]

Tannhäuser – Overture
Lieder – Barkarole; Selige Nacht; Der Bescheidene Schäfer; Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht; Sommerlied; Maienblüten; Waldseligkeit; Hat dich die Liebe berüht
Eine alpensinfonie, Op.64

Christine Brewer (soprano)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Jiří Bělohlávek

Reviewed by: Bob Briggs

Reviewed: 11 December, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

As we sat listening to the Overture to Tannhäuser it was in the knowledge that The Royal Opera’s new production of this work was well into its first night stride. Jiří Bělohlávek’s view of the Overture was spacious, with a full and rich orchestral sound, but it lacked the forward momentum which fills this music.

Christine Brewer. Photograph: Christian SteinerFurtwängler described Joseph Marx as the “leading force of Austrian music”. Certainly he was a fine and fastidious composer, and the author of an impressive body of keenly wrought songs, but I think that the maestro was over-egging the pudding. Christine Brewer has been singing Marx’s Lieder for many years, including a Chandos CD with this orchestra and conductor. Marx’s style is opulently late-romantic, with the ghost of Franz Schmidt hovering over the orchestral textures and Richard Strauss the vocal line. These songs are very pleasing but there is insufficient contrast between them and after three or four the mind started to wander. The similarity in style and content led to a similarity in performance and, no matter how beautiful the overall sound, the ear tired with the lack of variety. We were given a repeat of ‘Hat dich die Liebe berüht’ as an encore.

Jiří Bělohlávek. ©Clive BardaLack of variety isn’t something which can be levelled at Richard Strauss’s an Alpine Symphony. Here was a beautifully judged performance with Bělohlávek displaying a sure hand in moulding his interpretation, characterising each episode well, building the music to the glorious musical vista at the centre of the piece, which was quite splendid, the sound of the orchestra beautifully rounded and sumptuous, and all the while Bělohlávek never losing sight of the lyrical aspect of the music. On the descent we had a truly frightening storm, but we reached base-camp and enjoyed a sublime rest as night overtook us. This was a thrilling and thoroughly engrossing account of the work, with Bělohlávek a fine guide on our trip and, if not quite as sustained as Sherpa Haitink, with the LSO, in this same hall a couple of years ago, this was just about everything one could ask for from this fascinating and colourful score.

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