Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – 2

Symphony No.100 in G (Military)
Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Mariss Jansons

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 1 September, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Mariss Jansons. Photograph: BRThe Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Mariss Jansons brought two symphonies to the BBC Proms.

Haydn’s ‘Military’ Symphony – one of his London set, and so-named because of the percussion effects in the second movement and finale – suffered because of the Royal Albert Hall’s acoustic, which swallowed orchestral detail; at least the repeating of the first-movement’s exposition gave another chance and dynamics were much better controlled. Those military aspects of the second movement failed to catch life, rather limp, and having a solo trumpet off-stage was a miscalculation. Jansons’s strictness choked the life out of the Minuet and such heavy-handedness similarly disfigured the finale, which suffered from smudged entries and he turned the whole affair into a circus, the four four percussionists marching whilst playing!

The Shostakovich was quite another matter. It was a profound conception and was played superbly, the span of the work’s 55 minutes was maintained not through force but through a slow-burn of momentum.

The opening Moderato is all ambivalence, its ideas presented rather than developed, yet Jansons wove a link between them. The tension wrought was palpable, and when the second-movement scherzo came – a damning indictment of the recently deceased Stalin, perhaps – the stabbing rhythms had defiance and venom. The third movement features the musical monograms of Shostakovich and – as revealed in 1994 – his Azerbaijani composition pupil Elmira Nazirova. The latter’s theme was sung out by solo horn and cushioned beautifully by enticing strings. Some aptly fractured playing meant that nothing is ever quite as it seems with Shostakovich and the darkness of the finale’s opening Andante meant that the ensuing Allegro was similarly weighed, making the close utterly desolate, the DSCH theme scrambling in desperation for resolution.

For encores we heard an alluring account of Sibelius’s Valse triste and then the Interlude between scenes 6 and 7 of Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”, which highlighted what Stalin found so objectionable about the opera; objections that led to Shostakovich being denounced, him withdrawing his Fourth Symphony, and his subsequent slide into subjugation. A clever, ironic encore.

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