BRSO/Jansons | Classical review

Royal Festival Hall, London

As his work with the Concertgebouw orchestra proves, Mariss Jansons could not conduct a dull concert if he tried, while his "other" band, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, has one of the most cultivated orchestral sounds in Europe. But it was not obvious what the point really was of this one-off visit from Munich for less than an hour and a quarter of scheduled music. Surely, there ought to be a stronger artistic theme, or more concerts, to justify such heavy carbon-footprint excursions, even by musicians of this quality.

Yet the way Jansons and his orchestra eased into the opening bars of Mahler's Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Travelling Lad) was, in many respects, its own answer. This cycle is the seminal work of the composer's youth, and the Bavarians revelled in the confident and original orchestration, blending delicately with Bo Skovhus's intelligent, intimate account of Mahler's self-pitying songs. At times, Skovhus struggled to keep his sound under the control Jansons – whose smiles on the podium may be deceptive – demanded; but these were hypnotic performances whose final song evaporated into a whisper both beguiling and sinister.

Jansons grew up in Shostakovich's Leningrad. He knew the composer. Even better, he understands him. His account of Shostakovich's 10th Symphony, a relatively overrated work about which much reductive nonsense has been written, was refreshingly musical, and all the more convincing for it. Jansons drew a tender, fragile intensity from the strings in the magisterially developed opening movement. Even in the allegro, the focus was on orchestral pulse and weight, not visions of Stalin. A gorgeous encore from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty and a brash one from Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk made one wish that more could be made of such visits.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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