Brahms, Bruckner

Tonight was a study in contrasts: the skilled sophisticate with nothing to say, and the sincere simpleton who knew how to make the music of Heaven audible to those of us on Earth.  The Vienna Symphony Orchestra performed Brahms and Bruckner.

Bruckner admired the opening of the first movement to Brahms’ First Piano Concerto.  But he considered that Brahms could have built a symphony out of this theme.  Although Brahms certainly had the skills to do so, he lacked the imagination.  So instead he produced a piano concerto.  In reality, the concerto was just an orchestral piece which Brahms simply failed to completely orchestrate – rather than showcasing the solo instrument, he blended the piano parts into the whole, and he might as well have turned this into a fully-orchestrated symphony.  But he did not.

The German Conductor Marc Albrecht accentuated the structure that Bruckner had so admired.  The German Pianist Lars Vogt provided robust substance that filled out the un-orchestrated piano parts and blended well with the orchestra.  But the movement never went very far beyond this.  The second movement had less motion – Brahms considered it a musical portrait of his friend Clara Schumann, but if I were her I would have been insulted that Brahms considered her so dull.  Thematically, the movement foretold his German Requiem, but in that later work Brahms certainly had something to say that he did not in this earlier one.  The final movement had many very charming parts, which had little or no relation with each other.  Brahms certainly knew how to compose on a purely technical level.  But successful music must exist on a higher level.

Hence to the Bruckner Third Symphony.  Bruckner was a simple man, and very insecure.  Critics ridiculed his compositional technique in his day (and many still do).  But in his way he knew how to develop an idea.  Albrecht also understood this idiom.  By controlling the dynamics, he ensured that the work had sufficient contrasts to augment the aetherial swells, and he also drew out the lyrical elements within the score, to make the reading multi-faceted, and to allow the heavenly chorales to grow organically out of the earthly lyrics.

The Vienna Symphony continues to impress with its authoritative but sensitive tone.  The solo horn had absolutely gorgeous moments in the Brahms concerto.  He deserved a solo bow, but Albrecht did not grant him one.


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