BRSO/Jansons, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Since this year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the first part of Cervantes' Don Quixote, performances of Richard Strauss' tone poem take on a celebratory note. But it will be hard to beat the resonance and emotional charge that the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra realised here under their chief conductor Mariss Jansons.

Jansons himself could be described as quixotic: he pursues the loftiest of ideals with a visionary commitment. Unlike the Don, though, there is rarely any question about his achieving them. Both the luxuriant sound and the wealth of detail that emerged from the score were judged to perfection and, in particular, the transitions from one narrative episode to another had a tension which swept the action on. BRSO principals - cellist Wen-Sinn Yang and violist Hermann Menninghaus - delivered the solo roles as though this were a sinfonia concertante: the virtuoso element always present but secondary to sheer beauty of sound and an integrity of purpose. A work that is sometimes merely picaresque thus retained all its nobility and humour.

Anyone expecting a relaxed interpretation of Brahms' allegedly sunny Second Symphony was quickly disabused of that idea. Indulging the BRSO's dark and rich tone, Jansons brought an altogether more searching depth to the music, worrying into the bare bones of the structure yet, by balancing the moments of explosive rhythmic fire with those of profound lyricism, never losing sight of an ultimately exuberant and transcending joy.

With Jansons, the poise between grace and a positively visceral force is compelling; the process of engagement - with both orchestra and listeners - is total. Even so, the spontaneous combustion of applause appeared to take him by surprise, his expression bemused - didn't people know Brahms could be like this? The long cheering produced two encores, with the high drama of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet excerpt signalling that the Bavarians will now make an indelible mark on Russian as well as German repertoire.


Rian Evans

The GuardianTramp

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