Vienna Philharmonic/Jansons – 16 September

Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)
Symphony No.97 in C
The Firebird – Suite (1919)

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Mariss Jansons

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 16 September, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

In the first of two concerts, the VPO played with bloom and exactness for Jansons. It took until the first encore, Dvoøák’s penultimate Slavonic Dance (Op.72/7), to realise that Jansons views music in paragraphs. Fleet and detailed it might have been, but it didn’t develop.

Ironically, it was the development sections of Haydn’s symphony that took wing. Elsewhere, Jansons’s emphasis flattened Haydn’s song and dance. Despite the VPO’s instincts for Haydn’s small print, Jansons’s soft-grained, polite approach stifled Haydn’s brio in courtly gestures.

As in two previous London attempts (both with Lorin Maazel) at the second of Stravinsky’s three Firebird abstractions, the VPO has a slightly shy way with some rhythms and effects. Jansons’s colour-palette was translucently sounded and carefully graded, yet slow sections seemed static and undelved and faster ones tame; King Kaschei was more miffed than infernal, the addition of a tubular bell here presumably another example of Jansons touching-up a score. Splendid horn solo near the close and Jansons gave the brass time to sustain its bell-like notes.

The concert started with an acoustic experiment that failed, to be successful after the interval – all part of the slowly-evolving RFH refurbishment: not that much needs doing to the truthfully faithful auditorium, as the beguiling sounds of the VPO showed. The Doctor Who-like test-frequencies invoked both Schoenberg and Glass – twelve tones and minimalist – and drew applause.

Memory is a powerful force in listening. Celibidache’s way with ’The Death of Tybalt’ from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, the second encore, showed Jansons as lively enough, the ’stabbing’ episode imaginatively ’real’, though with a lack of sinew; an expensive encore too as it needed a sax player for just a few tutti bars.

A shadow for the Mendelssohn too – Sawallisch and the Philharmonia, in this hall a couple of years back, transparent and buoyant, the music seen whole. Jansons’s first movement compelled as dark and craggy depiction was unfolded and perfectly timed into an exuberant ’Scherzo’. Coughs dictated Jansons’s launching of the ’Adagio’, radiant and militaristic by turns with lovely string, oboe and clarinet playing, yet the war-like last ’Finale’ couldn’t go beyond the conductor’s control and seemed empty, the joyous coda too easy.

Tonight, 17th, Christian Thielemann conducts a mostly Richard Strauss programme.

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