I came into Vienna for the weekend and added a concert to my schedule: the Munich Philharmonic visited the Musikverein. Semyon Bychkov took the podium, replacing the late Lorin Maazel. Tonight’s program was an all-Richard Strauss affair, and there may be few orchestras which master his music like this one. The Munich Philharmonic treated us to a sumptuous sound – something that Maazel, a consumate if unbelievably dull musician – certainly refined.
The concert opened with the tone poem Don Juan, in a fiery and passionate reading (something that Maazel certainly could not have accomplished) – not only did Don Juan seduce the women, but it sounded like he’d also paid a visit to the Venusberg. This orchestra has a lush sound that draws in the listeners, particularly with acoustics in a hall such as the Musikverein. Although uniform at times, Bychkov kept the modulations to build overall combined sounds – allowing the mind to imagine the protrayals. Or, perhaps, the playing left very little for the imagination – this Don Juan may have earned a X rating
The orchestra’s principal horn, Jörg Brückner, was the soloist for Strauss’ second horn concerto. I heard his first concerto (a youthful work) in May, and now got to follow it up with the second (written near the end of Strauss’ life). These two concerti do not form part of the common concert repertory. But the influence of the composer’s virtuoso hornist father continued to rub off, and Strauss knew how to write for this instrument. The model remained Mozart, like in the earlier concerto, but now he augmented the chromatics. The horn engaged the whole orchestra, but particularly the woodwinds, in fascinating dialogue and witty repartee, and sent the audience dancing into the intermission.
For the second half of the concert, Ein Heldenleben traced a hero’s life. Every time I thought an instrument or section deserved a highlight, along came the next performer. There were no standouts – they were all good. But wait, maybe there was one: concertmaster Sreten Krstič, who played the violin solos as a country fiddler, provided a level of spontaneity to the already-composed music on the page. The applause at the concert’s end, although long and hard for everyone, rose several more notches for him.