Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons in New York (2) – Richard Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung & Bruckner 7

Tod und Verklärung, Op.24
Symphony No.7 in E [Nowak edition]

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Mariss Jansons

Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley

Reviewed: 14 February, 2013
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

This year the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra celebrates its 125th-anniversary. Here conducted by Mariss Jansons, its chief conductor since 2004, great works of late romanticism showed-off its extraordinary qualities of precision and radiant warmth.

Mariss Jansons. Photograph: BRNevertheless, Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration suffered a lack of spontaneity. In the opening section, which describes the “small, poverty-stricken room” in which “lies a sick man on his cot” (according to the poem that Alexander Ritter wrote at Strauss’s request), the orchestra captured its dark, apprehensive stillness, although the embellishing pp woodwind figures were too bright and strong to maintain this atmosphere. Each time the “bird of prey”, an image for his affliction, attacks the poor man, threatening gestures in the low strings and brass and jabbing thrusts in the woodwinds should hurtle forth with terrifying intensity. Yet these powerful moments failed to reach fever-pitch. When the music softens, and dreams of lost youth overtake the dying man, the triplet accompaniment to the ethereal, nostalgic violin solos lacked natural flow, rhythmic accuracy taking precedence over dramatic import. Jansons pressed the tempos, hurrying through lyrical passages and storming past grand climaxes, emphasizing highly-polished sound. As the music gradually builds to redemption, Jansons ignored Strauss’s direction to play the glorious conclusion sehr breit (very broadly), dashing through it rather than basking in its redeeming grandeur.

Bruckner 7 was a different matter, Jansons keeping it moving, the foursquare rigidity and restraint that weakened the Strauss gone. Jansons was in complete control and occasionally stopped conducting. His brisk pacing maintained intensity without deconstructing the work’s rich lyricism, which was shaped exquisitely. Brass was resplendent with ample power, and cellos impressed. Jansons disregarded the score’s direction to speed up in the coda, allowing it to grow naturally. An underlying impulsive quality kept the Adagio slightly on edge without detracting from its deep emotion, and a monumental buildup to its climax released a magnificent explosion. After a vibrant scherzo, enhanced by thunderous outbursts and a beautifully flowing line in the trio, the finale began in a moderately agitated tempo progressively stepped up by Jansons after each diversion into the more relaxed subsidiary subject. In the coda, again ignoring the score’s instruction to broaden the tempo, he drove the music home vigorously, easing up only for the ultimate peroration.

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