Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra @ Royal Festival Hall, London

8 March 2008

Although popular around 100 years ago, concerts comprising ‘bleeding-chunks’ of Wagner are thin on the ground these days

More’s the pity, as this concert by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra was quite simply sensational.

As the musicians took their places on the platform for Saturday’s all-Wagner concert the audience burst into spontaneous and heartfelt applause.

It’s a long time since I’ve witnessed an orchestra receiving such a warm welcome, but from the moment Mariss Jansons picked up his baton and the horns intoned the hushed mystical first notes of the Tannhuser Overture I could see why. Here was an orchestra and conductor at the peak of their powers, and from that moment we knew that a feast of Wagnerian splendour awaited us.

The rapport between conductor and orchestra was evident in every bar and each section of the orchestra excelled. Having seen the LPO just a few nights before, it was a revelation to hear how different our German visitors sounded. There was more depth and glow to the lower strings, the playing of the violins in the Dawn section from Gtterdmmerung was pure ecstasy, whilst the brass had a constant warmth which I don’t think orchestras in the UK produce. Everything grew organically and Jansons succeeded in placing each of the extracts in context.

Siegfried’s Funeral March was a case in point as the result of his perfectly-judged tempi and the scrupulous attention to detail from the players was properly shattering. Hand on heart I don’t think I’ve heard a more convincing live performance of this piece, and on record you’d have to go back as far as Furtwngler to find a suitably worthy comparison. The playing was simply incandescent.

After the interval a paired-down orchestra was joined by the Japanese mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura in a transfixing performance of the Wesendonck Lieder. She produced a flood of glorious singing where required but it was the hushed introspection she brought to Im Treibhaus (In the Greenhouse) and Trume (Dreams) that really took the breath away, especially as she has the ability to float the most exquisite pianissimo high notes when necessary. The only blight on the performance was the decision by someone to applaud after the first song which meant that there was applause after every one, thus ruining the atmosphere.

There then followed a wonderfully ethereal rendition of the Act 1 Prelude of Lohengrin, the strings providing a luminous halo of sound which formed the bedrock for the whole performance. This unforgettable concert concluded with a duly weighty, yet dazzling performance of the Ride of the Valkyries. Despite the audience’s huge ovation for Jansons and the orchestra, and their reluctance to leave the auditorium, an encore was not forthcoming. For me at least, this was the finest concert it’s been my privilege to attend in the last twelve months.

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