New Year concerts in Dresden, Vienna, Berlin, Venice, Leipzig and much else - it takes planning to catch them all. The Silvesterkonzert from Staatskapelle Dresden with Christian Thielemann capped them all: genuinely satisfying as a musical experience as opposed to a fun way to fill time. Bruch's Violin Concerto no 1 with Nikolaj Znaider, putting his soul into what he was doing. Intense, serious musicianship, without compromise, complemented by the orchestra, who were magnificent. At the end of an old year we are looking back as well as looking ahead, and 2016 was particularly traumatic not at all something from which to draw comfort. Znaider's playing was pointedly unflashy and unfrivolous, the understated poise in his playing emphasizing the poignant sadness often missed in less focussed performances. Znaider made the violin sound exquisitely pure, like the newborn year emerging into an uncertain future: really quite frightening. When the orchestra joined behind him, their richness intensified the impact: the babe is not alone. I particularly like the way the reflective Bruch concerto should flow almost without a break from the punchy confidence of the overture to Emil Freiherr von Reznicek's Donna Diana (1894), an opera now largely forgotten except for its introduction. Spooky, especially considering the context.
Yet Thielemann didn't linger. From refined beginnings, the overture to Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet grew purposefully, the warmth in the orchestral timbre evoking passion, rising like sap in the hearts of two young lovers. But things won't work out well. Dizzying, rushing figures, ferocious angular outbursts: against which the love theme soared, defying violence. Thielemann shaped the conclusion so it felt particularly tragic, as poignant as Znaider's Bruch. The powerful last chords were an affirmation that there's something magnificent in human endeavour, against all odds.
For a moment, a quick sugar fix, Fritz Kreisler's Schön Rosmarin with Znaider as soloist. But was this escapism Or a sly dig at Vienna? For this miniature comes from the three Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen. Are we to think of the New Year's Concert in Vienna, now so commercialized that it's not primarily music? A friend observed "Dudamel conducted from memory!", not that it takes much to conduct consumer product. I listened dutifully until I broke down and rushed back to Dresden. There may, however, be even deeper implications than the purely musical. Thielemann and the Dresdners followed Kreisler with the Overture to Rossini's Guillaume Tell. Wonderfully rousing. But it's rousing because Tell is fighting a war of resistance against Austrian hegemony. Read into that what you will. My sympathies are with Tell's integrity and independent spirit. Perhaps to make the point further, the encores were Manuel Ponce's Estrellita with Znaider, a nostalgic little charmer, and Franz von Suppé's Leichte Kavallerie often associated with Vienna - light cavalry, as opposed to Big Guns. Listen to the broadcast HERE on medici tv.