Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Mariss Jansons / Mihoko Fujimura - Royal Festival Hall, 8 March 2008
Tannhäuser - Overture
Götterdämmerung - Siegfried's Rhine Journey
Lohengrin - Prelude Act 3
Götterdämmerung - Siegfried's Funeral Music
Tannhäuser - Bacchanale
Lohengrin - Prelude Act 1
Die Walküre - Ride of the Valkyries
It was a surprise to see the Royal Festival Hall not quite packed to the rafters for one of the world's greatest orchestras (not to mention one of the greatest conductors). It seems the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra still don't have that name recognition factor amongst the wider public. The all-Wagner programme, a novelty in symphony-loving London, perhaps had something to do with it too. But the welcome couldn't have been warmer, almost a standing ovation even before a note was played.
With time-consuming changes of orchestral personnel between each piece, the programme had a stop-start feel. But that didn't compromise the measured elegance of the performance or Jansons' incredible attention to detail, displayed right from the beginning with the exquisitely balanced pianissimo opening of the Overture from Tannhäuser and the masterfully-built crescendo that followed. His tempos were generally expansive. Only in Siegfried's Funeral Music was there a slight tendency to drag. The Ride of the Valkyries on the other hand had a bit too much of the sprint to the finish line about it. But these are small quibbles in a mostly superb performance where the fat polished woodwind sound and the burnished control of the brass were particularly impressive.
Mihoko Fujimura was the mezzo soloist for the Wesendonck Lieder, here arranged for orchestra. Technically adept though she is, her delivery had the flawless sheen of a cultured pearl, a tutored brilliance that eliminates faults rather than seeking beauty. I couldn't knock her performance, but I wasn't able to warm to it either.