Brahms: Symphony No. 1; R Strauss: Don Jaun; Wagner: Wesendonck-Lieder
Caught in the video cameras’ lenses at last summer’s Salzburg Festival, the massed men of the Vienna Philharmonic look resplendent and spruce in their dark morning coats, grey waistcoats and matching trousers. Yet in a Vienna Philharmonic concert, especially one conducted by Mariss Jansons, we hope for pleasures beyond the sartorial. And we get them too, but only in patches. The concert’s opening item, Strauss’s Don Juan, is magnificent, lustrously performed from first flourish to dying fall, and cunningly crafted by Jansons so that every episode in the narrative flows into its neighbour. Aristocratic perfection is expected from the Philharmonic, but here they also offer thrilling timbres, especially from the horns, and genuine passion (Don Juan’s stock-in-trade, after all).
Gorgeous sounds also emerge during Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, though they’re mostly confined to the orchestra; their silky diminuendos are wonderful. Soloist Nina Stemme also shines when the dynamics are scaled back, though feelings always seem held at arm’s length, with ‘Im Treibhaus’ only a partial exception.
There are disappointments, too, in Brahms’s First Symphony, with spasms of ordinary playing, a few ensemble problems, and a curious lack of joined-up thinking. Still, the finale contains genuine electricity; among the excellent woodwinds, clarinettist Daniel Ottensamer’s solos pierce the heart; and the video cameras unobtrusively patrol the action. As usual, the Blu-ray edition offers much greater visual sparkle: good news for the strings’ polished woodwork and those crisp patterned ties.