It is three or four years since the world’s leading orchestras woke up to Mariss Jansons’ talents and there was a rush to secure his services. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra moved in first, followed shortly afterwards by Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, leaving Jansons juggling his diary between the two (his future plans include tours to London with both orchestras).
It is bad luck on Munich, but everybody knows that it is Amsterdam’s orchestra that matters. Here is the relationship that will define the peak of Jansons’ career and show what he can do when he is in charge of one of the top 10 orchestras.
In particular, there is the question of repertoire. Jansons has always kept by his side a select group of favourite pieces that he conducts over and over again, but with the spotlight on him in Amsterdam he will have to venture further afield.
That is where Saturday’s concert at the Barbican – a pairing of the Third Symphonies of Schubert and Bruckner – was so interesting. The Schubert was pure Jansons: every phrase was perfectly groomed, bright and fresh, as if the ink on Schubert’s score was still wet and the paper still crisp.
From there to the Bruckner was a significantly bigger challenge. We are not used to seeing Jansons tested in a Bruckner symphony, where events happen on a broad timescale. What he gave us was far from the hallowed religious experience of old German maestros such as Knappertsbusch or Karajan – more like a cathedral when the lights are turned up bright, so that every piece of craftsmanship could be examined in detail – but it was a very fine piece of music-making. Nothing was vulgar; each section of the orchestra (marvellously eloquent horns) played with distinction. Once the customary numinous aura was blown away, the workings of the symphony could be seen brilliantly laid out before us.
Lovers of the traditional way of performing Bruckner may have been divided in opinion, but on this showing Jansons and his Amsterdam musicians are already working with a single mind. They make a formidable team.
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