Shostakovich • Wagner • R Strauss
Has anyone at the Concertgebouw thought about earmarking Andris Nelsons as an ideal chief conductor to follow his mentor and fellow Latvian Mariss Jansons? If not – and in any case we can only hope Birmingham keeps him for as long as possible – this superb Lucerne concert should do the trick. It’s an oddly balanced programme, but Nelsons’s passionate engagement
and facial expressiveness in every facet, always balanced by his discipline with or without a baton, hold the spell. Wagner’s first great melody in his Rienzi Overture is unfurled with breadth and clarity of profile, while the ensuing celebrations sound brilliant rather than brash. Salome’s ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ conjures up with teasing flexibility the image of Strauss’s capricious and dangerous heroine which somehow never quite materialises in the harsh reality of stage choreography.
Inevitably, though, the monumental Shostakovich Symphony No. 8 has to be the reason for giving the concert permanence, and how singularly Nelsons plumbs its depths. Dynamic levels and tone quality are always adjusted to the familiar wan grief and searing horror, but there are some surprises: the sheer warmth of violins in some of the first movement’s extended melodic arcs, the woodwinds’ fiercely funny tiptoeing on hot coals in the first march-scherzo and their suaver solos in the finale, its blighted recovery and tentative final hope steadily but still graphically gauged by Nelsons. Cameras always find the right players, with some novel filming of violin deskers, but in Shostakovich’s mesmerising Passacaglia, you really have to shut your eyes as Nelson probes ever deeper layers of meaning.