Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Jansons, BRSO Philharmonie Paris : Mahler, Sommer, Rachmaninov

Live from the Philharmonie de Paris, in the Grande Salle Pierre Boulez, Mariss Jansons conducts the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. in a programme they'll be touring in six cities in Europe in the next few weeks.

Highlight, for me was Mahler Kindertotenlieder. Gerhild Romberger substituted at short notice for Waltraud Meier, but I was pleased, since Meier, though she's greatly loved, isn't quite what she was .In this repertoire, Romberger is superb, wiyh the sensitivity that marks a true recitalist. Kindertotenlieder deals with painful  emotions. Can there be any grief more difficult to deal with than the death of children?  The poet, Friedrich Rückert, lost two children in very short succession. He wrote from personal experience when he described looking downwards "auf die Stelle, näher nach der Schwelle, dort, wo würde dein lieb Gesichtchen sein. Wenn du freudenhelle trätest mit herein". Although the songs are so familiar that moment still knocks me out.  You don't make up details like that unless you've been there.  Yet what is striking about these songs is their sincerity.  No overblown pathos but instead an unselfconscious directness evident in the sparseness of the scoring.

As a group, the five songs of Kindertotenlieder form a prototype symphony. Meaning is thus embedded into structure. The children will not develop into adults, the cycle will not grow, but remains suspended in miniature. A solo oboe sets the plaintive tone, colours added with utmost delicacy: glockenspiel, for example, at once child-like and fragile.  Kindertotenlieder is not theatrical.  Romberger's well-modulated delivery evokes the images of darkness and light which suffuse the cycle. She sings with an inwardness that imparts her words with grave grandeur.  The turbulence in the final song is disturbing: symphonies shouldn't end with scherzo-like violence!  But then, neither should children die. Note the piling up of sibilants : Saus, Braus, Haus. Then a kind of transcendence. "Von keinem Sturm erschrecket, von Gottes Hand bedecket."  Rounded tones, tenderness, voice and orchestra cradled in a kind of lullaby.  

Before Kindertotenlieder, Jansons conducted Vladimir Sommer (1921-1997),  Antigone: Overture to the Tragedy of Sophocles (1957).  It's certainly turbulent, strings whirling like demented Furies, the winds screaming long planes of sound that shatter into frantic staccato, trumpets blazing forth.  It's dramatic, as the subject would suggest. Yet single instruments like clarinets and oboes fly above the storm, bassoon and muted trumpets leading into a quieter phase.  Purposeful blocks of sound, the call of a flute, later a small solo trumpet, muted.  An explosion of timpani, a single woodwind, then silence.  Since Sommer is new to me, I  checked out what I could,and was mightily impressed by his Vocal Symphony (1958) for contralto, speaker, choir and orchestra.  

Jansons concluded with Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances (1940)  By turns, colourful, spooky, rich and nostalgic, this brought out some very fine playing from the BRSO. This performance is also available on BR Klassik. 

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