Munich Philharmonic / Christian Thielemann / Renée Fleming - Gasteig Munich, 24 October 2010
Making the most of my time in Munich, I squeezed in a final concert at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning. The Munich Philharmonic is so popular that most of its concerts are repeated twice, with a large proportion of the seats filled by subscribers. That’s nearly 8,000 tickets per programme – who said classical music is dying?
The orchestra’s home is the Gasteig, a sort of redbrick Barbican. It’s a dispiriting sight at any time, and at its worst on a wet grey morning. The heating, elevated many degrees beyond comfort or reason, makes you only too happy to slap down the €1.70 cloakroom fee for the pleasure of dumping every discardable garment. I perked up when I discovered my overpriced and ordinary-looking breakfast croissant concealed a massive nugget of pure Nutella, handy fuel for the long traipse up five flights to my seat at the very back of the hall. Up there the view is distant but the acoustic surprisingly good.
Either that or Thielemann has switched the orchestra for the Vienna Philharmonic. The sound was uncannily immaculate, luxurious even, bedded on golden strings. Thielemann sculpted the Nachtstück from Schreker’s Der ferne Klang using little more than subtle gradations of string colour - and one of his perfectly-judged Luftpausen. In his recent Proms performance, Metzmacher emphasised the strangeness and modernity of Schreker’s writing, but for Thielemann he was a late-blooming flower of the high romantic style. Does all the recent attention mean that we're going to be hearing more Schreker in the opera house soon? I hope so.
It's hard to get through a weekend's concerts without brushing up against Mahler at the moment. The Mahlerversary got its inevitable look-in with the Rückert-Lieder, tackled by Renee Fleming of all people, looking younger and slimmer than ever in emerald silk and fresh badger-blonde highlights.
But if you think Mahler + Renee sounds like an odd combination, you’d be right. A gorgeous stream of unintelligible vowels wafted beguilingly through the superheated air, as if Mahler were Strauss’s long-lost cousin. There’s a reason Thielemann’s not really associated with Mahler either. His conception was if anything even more bizarre, bathed in the pastoral glow of mid-period Vaughan Williams. Somehow it fitted together, even if it hardly sounded like any Mahler you’ve heard before.
Thielemann was back on home ground for Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, score-free and tuned in to every last tiny detail. Although everything he does is governed by an inexorable sense of line, he doesn’t always find the backbone of the piece in the same places everyone else does. Subtle changes of balance brought out parts I’d never really heard before. Despite the lush, old-fashioned sonorities, what emerged most strongly was Brahms’ debt to Bach, particularly in the delicately-handled counterpoint.Yet it was the operatic sense of drama which riveted. When Thielemann tells a musical story like this one, you just want to hang on every word.
This is Thielemann's penultimate season in Munich. Outside the Gasteig, flyers were brazenly handed out for his next gig, in Dresden. Wonder if any of the orchestra picked one up?
This is what it looked like without the zoom lens: