Symphony No.88 in G
Des Knaben Wunderhorn [selections: Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt; Lob des hohen Verstandes; Rheinlegendchen; Trost im Unglück; Das irdische Leben; Der Tamboursg’sell; Revelge]
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass-baritone)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 28 May, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
With the welcoming lush countryside of Glyndebourne on the horizon, the East Sussex-bound London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski bid cheerio to its 2010-11 season with Brahms’s farewell to the symphony (if not to the orchestra).
It was a generally excellent performance, the one questionable aspect being the scherzo, Jurowski overriding Brahms’s giocoso marking with a furioso of his own – not the suggestion of a smile (and making the anyway-irksome triangle completely miscast). This was Brahms with attitude and a rhythmic alacrity that suggested Stravinsky had been tinkering with the score. The preceding two movements had been richly expressive, Jurowski lingering awhile on the symphony’s first note, nearly a sigh, and proceeding to unfold the movement in an unhurried but also purposeful manner, the emphasis being on lyricism (save the trumpets were a tad tetchy) and clarity for all that this was big-band Brahms, woodwinds doubled (that is four of each) and with ten double basses (spot-on for this acoustic). With a slow movement that felt exactly the inscribed Andante moderato, Jurowski finding just the right measured pulse and with fibrous-sounding pizzicatos, the music blossomed to communicate deep sentiments. The Passacaglia finale, the work’s crown, wasn’t quite the rigorous construction it can (should) be, the flute-led variation in danger of sagging but saved by Jaime Martín’s Syrinx-like playing. The end of the work was presented as fiercely defiant, not quite fitting the “tragic” bracket sometimes applied to it (Karajan thought the work thus, along with Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’ and Sibelius’s Fourth; he left out Mahler 6) and rounded-off an impressive and flexible performance played with notable finesse in the winds, gloriously in the strings, and with a well-judged contribution from timpanist Simon Carrington.
This may have been an end-of-term evening, but there was also celebration for a future collaboration, the London Philharmonic announcing its place in the inaugural events for the Royal Opera House Muscat, which opens on 12 October with a new Franco Zeffirelli-directed production of Puccini’s “Turandot”. ROH Muscat seems to be a remarkable building in its architectural splendour, state-of-the-art technology, and range of cultural events. The London Philharmonic plays Dvořák and Bruckner at ROH Muscat on 5 November with Yo-Yo Ma and Christoph Eschenbach.
There was certainly a sense of theatre to the renditions of selections from Mahler’s “Des Knaben Wunderhorn”. There was much to relish in the LPO’s vibrant accompaniment, slithering with incident as St Anthony preached, scurrying impishly (cuckooing and heehawing) to mock ‘high intellect’, and finding an ideally ‘dry’ bass drum sound to underline the ritual daily reveille of marching foot-sore soldiers. Hanno Müller-Brachmann, replacing Christian Gerhaher, fully entered into the spirit and atmosphere of each song – if not so much the cross-dressing of ‘Trost im Unglück’! – and it was such a lack of differentiation that made too similar cloth out of distinct fantasies. If the voice was lacking weight and variety it was accurate and responsive, Müller-Brachmann’s outgoing presentation and his thespian skills keeping the show on the road.
Haydn’s joyous and delightful Symphony 88 opened the programme, the LPO slimmed down and sporting ‘natural’ trumpets and ‘authentic’ (smaller and crisper-sounding) timpani. Jurowski, if visually too signposting, had the measure of the work’s line, diversions and humour, the truculence of the finale (ideally measured) a pleasure. The trumpet and drum interruptions to the songful slow movement were ideally edgy and followed a perky opening allegro. In a performance lightly textured and dynamically varied, Jurowski’s ear for a drone and his relish for surprises confirming Haydn’s genius status as a composer of remarkable and sustained invention.