Bavarian RSO/Jansons/Uchida – review

Southbank Centre, London

On his day, and this was definitely one of them, Mariss Jansons has an exceptional ability to bring cornerstone orchestral repertoire works back to life, blowing away their cobwebs without indulging in any quirky or perverse interpretative angles to help the piece restate its case. In the past, he has done this memorably with symphonies by Dvor˘ák and Tchaikovsky. This time, with his Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in compelling form, the beneficiary was Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, a work that can easily outstay its welcome in more vulgar hands.

Herbert von Karajan, for one, used to bring Ein Heldenleben to London in order to show off his Berlin orchestra and, above all, himself. The result was a wall of magnificent but empty sound. Jansons, by contrast, kept the piece under more subtle control, underlining the ironies as well as the bluster and thus bringing the focus back to Strauss's persuasively self-aware account of the world of the bourgeois artist. He was helped by Anton Barachovsky's outstanding account of the solo violin part, a wry but devoted depiction of the composer's wife, which in this performance seemed very much at the heart of the work.

Earlier, Mitsuko Uchida had given a vibrant account of Beethoven's third piano concerto, unwrapping the audacities of the first-movement cadenza as if playing it for the first time, yet also achieving wonderfully judged delicacy in the largo. Uchida was also the soloist, two nights later, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with members of the BRSO. It is hard to imagine the piano in Beethoven's early quintet for winds and piano being better played than it was by Uchida, but again Barachovsky's pointed delicacy in Schubert's Octet shared the honours.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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