Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra - Royal Festival Hall, 29 November 2008
A year ago, a Saturday night concert by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall might reasonably have been expected to sell out, or thereabouts.
It's a measure of the times, and no reflection on the orchestra itself, that there were swathes of empty seats. A couple of LPO concerts I've been to recently (and not had time to write up) have barely scraped half a house full - and that's even with twofer offers and giveaway student prices. So Mariss Jansons - the world's greatest conductor? - doesn't need to fear his crown is slipping. Though it does force me to wonder how much longer there'll be funding for visits from orchestras of this quality.
The opener was Mozart's Linz Symphony - half an hour of agreeableness programmed on the slightly limp grounds that it's named after Bruckner’s hometown. Executed neatly and without any hint of preciousness, it nevertheless remained rather earthbound. Untransported, I entertained myself observing the Jansons baton technique - flicked crisply in the right hand in tricky timekeeping spots, replaced by wafty hands for a bit of cantabile, and tucked efficiently in the left hand in between.
Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony was another matter altogether. The BRSO somehow combine American-style slick technique with unfettered expressivity to produce a sound that's refined but never sanitised. Strings are warm and dark, winds immaculate, brass imposing but never blaring. Individual virtuosity was highlighted in the tricky first horn part, stamina also, and the white-haired soloist justly received a massive ovation as he humbly took his applause. A single unfortunate trumpet squawk, far from detracting, only highlighted the surrounding perfection.
Mariss Jansons could take his musicians from the shivering pianissimo of the opening bars to the thundering peaks of the scherzo with the assurance of a dressage rider on a perfectly-schooled horse. In his hands the monumental structure was cleanly sculpted and yet there was a delight in the smallest of details. Even the second movement, a classic moment of hands-in-pockets going-nowhere Bruckner became a sparkling jewel turning slowly in the sunlight. Time, for however many minutes, truly was suspended.