Christian Thielemann Brings the Staatskapelle Dresden to the Proms
Prom 71 – Mozart, Bruckner: Daniil Trifonov (piano); Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, 7.9.2016. (CC)
Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K467 (1785)
Bruckner – Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1876/7 version, ed. Nowak)
The Bruckner Fourth a couple of days previous to this concert from Daniel Barenboim and his Berlin Staatskapelle brought forth a raft of delights; and again, a Mozart piano concerto was in the first half. This time it was Christian Thielemann and the Dresden Staatskapelle that was in the spotlight; and a different soloist, the well-respected Daniil Trifonov. Amazingly, Thielemann was making his Proms debut. He is clearly a no-nonsense conductor, not waiting for the audience to settle down before commencing; his baton technique is exemplary in clarity and expressive.
Back in 2013, Trifonov impressed with a Proms performance of Glazunov’s Second Piano Concerto with the LSO under Gergiev. If only his Mozart were as splendid. After a finely crafted orchestral exposition, with some gorgeous woodwind to string dovetailing, Trifonov entered promisingly, including a perfect trill. But a surprising memory lapse when his left hand went awry implied not all was settled; neither was co-ordination between piano and orchestra exemplary. Trifonov’s own cadenzas were certainly off-the-wall, the scampering, virtuoso cadenza in the first movement inviting in a whole range of gestures unknown to Mozart. The opening of the finale, which often finds the odd inserted flourish from pianists, found Trifonov adding a quasi-extempore passage that really was quite extended. There was even a touch of Busoni in the air in the finale’s more extended cadenza – and extended and dramatic it was, too. A shame, too, that the delightfully staccatissimo woodwind were somewhat scuppered by the acoustic. The famous slow movement was beautifully done by the orchestra, but Trifonov had a tendency to try to be over-subtle, sometimes just being too quiet in the process. A curious performance, and not one I would like to relive in a hurry.
The quite charming encore was Prokofiev’s own arrangement of the ‘Gavotte’ from the ballet Cinderella.
So to the Third Symphony, in what is obviously Bruckner Week at the Proms. This was heard in the 1877 version (Thielemann did the 1873 first version in Munich but was dissatisfied; the second version of 1874 had already been done by Haitink with the Dresden orchestra so he plumped for the 1877). Conducting from memory, Thielemann delivered a clean, well-considered reading of the score. As in the first half, antiphonal violins were used; the brass choir here was to the conductor’s right. There were some glorious brass moments, the trumpets especially commanding. The horn vibrato was less convincing, however.
Thielemann’s understanding of the linear aspect of Bruckner’s writing resulted in some glorious counterpoint and a cleanliness of line even at climaxes; everything was tightly controlled. The string sound for the Andante was warm, but not glowing, and here Thielemann seemed keen to draw out the ghost of Wagner behind the writing as a whole as well as in direct quotation. By far the finest movement was the Scherzo and Trio, setting incisive, biting, fierce attack against an inviting Ländler. The finale was a showcase for Thielemann’s phenomenal stick technique and the way he effortlessly negotiated those sticky corners. One splendid moment was a magical cello line against pizzicato accompaniment; the movement’s climax was well, if not staggeringly, realised.
The thing is that while there was a raft of stand-out moments in Thielemann’s reading, the sense of overwhelming mastery was missing. Bruckner’s Third is a perfect piece for the Albert Hall, and I was present at the 1988 Chailly/Concertgebouw performance which was highly impressive and which I remember to this day, 28 years on. I wonder if I will remember too much of Thielemann’s reading if called to do so by another Bruckner Third Symphony in the 2044 Promenade season (assuming I am still here?). Somehow, I doubt it.