R. Strauss, Bruckner
The second of two nights in a row with Mariss Jansons and the Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Musikverein. Tonight’s offering by these forces: Tod und Verklärung by Richard Strauss and the Seventh Symphony by Anton Bruckner. More heavy music, today less up-beat.
Tod und Verklärung got off to an icy start, death sending chills through the hall on an already cold and wet evening. But the orchestra swelled, the music warmed, and we were all transfixed, transformed, and transfigured. As the last notes soared into the night, the Golden Hall sat in absolute extended silence, contemplating what we had just experienced. And then, after a long thought, we could breathe again. And applaud. And reluctantly descend into intermission.
I suppose after hearing the Bartók, Mahler, and Strauss during the last three concert segments, we came to expect a transformative Bruckner 7th as well. The Concertgebouw and Jansons had legitimately raised our expectations. We got a very good one, but it did not quite transform nor necessarily say anything new.
This was actually the second time I have heard this symphony live this month – last with Fabio Luisi and the Symphoniker – and the interpretations came across quite distinct, but complementary. Whereas Luisi did not take a robust approach, emphasizing other aspects of the symphony’s inner structure, Jansons certainly did shake the rafters. This was in no way a delicate performance, yet still a fully idiomatic and non-bombastic reading of Bruckner’s symphony, with its funereal overtones (Wagner lay dying when Bruckner began the work, and died while Bruckner was composing it, and Bruckner added an entire section of Wagner Tubas to the orchestration, notably for a broad funeral chorale in the slow movement). Jansons allowed the brass to shine, but without forgetting the full sounds elsewhere – the chorale at the opening of the first movement, scored for the cello section, proved other-worldly. I’ve heard celli sing before, but never quite like that.