Symphony No.8 in G, Op.88
Ein Heldenleben, Op.40

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Mariss Jansons

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 July, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra responded unfailingly to all the demands of its new Chief Conductor. One senses mutual admiration. Yet for all the moulded phrasing, sparkling details, exuberance, and hushed, expectant pianissimos, Mariss Jansons micro-managed every situation and Dvořák’s innate naturalness seemed contrived. Applause between movements didn’t help coherence, and the cameramen on the platform seemed quite distracting on this occasion. And one wondered why the unneeded celesta-player was sat at his instrument throughout the performance.

One gets used to the way the Royal Albert Hall is now lit for Proms, although when there was a temporary blackout during the ‘Battle’ of Heldenleben, the intrinsic ambience was welcome! And, on this subject, could someone at the BBC please address the use of the house lights, which are so quickly and insensitively brought to full brightness at the end of any performance?

Heldenleben was generally impressive, especially regarding its lack of indulgence and rhetoric (Andreas Röhn was the unaffected solo violinist) and although the ‘Battle’ itself hung fire somewhat, Jansons’s concern for detail and texture, and for chamber-music balances, was very gratifying. But he spoilt it all at the end by amending the composer’s revised final bars in order to sustain the fortissimo and include another ‘thump’. (Strauss’s original ending was a simple fade-out, which Sawallisch once recorded for EMI.)

Jansons isn’t above touching-up scores, and it would be best to pass over his vulgar projection of the Rosenkavalier waltz sequence. Did the rattle need to be that big? It seemed more a visual accessory, which some found amusing. The other encore, Dvořák’s E minor Slavonic Dance (Op.72/2), while being a little too self-conscious in its sheen, also touched the heart in its measured phrasing.

Maybe an official at the Royal Albert Hall could explain why average-size and bigger cases are now being searched twice (on arrival and after the interval). “You could have put something in it while you were outside,” said the chap searching my accoutrement. True enough. But small bags are not being searched at all – is it not possible that there could be “something” present in one of those?

  • Concert rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Thursday 5 August at 2 p.m.
  • BBC Proms 2004

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