Thielemann’s Dresden Adventure Begins

GermanyGermany Wolf, Bruckner: Renée Fleming (soprano), Christian Thielemann (conductor), Dresden Staatskapelle, Semperoper, Dresden, 1.9.2012 (JFL)

Wolf: Six Orchestrated Songs
Bruckner: Symphony No.7 (Haas)

The opening of the season of the Dresden Staatskapelle on Sunday, September 1st, was a celebrated occasion in Saxony’s capital. Aided and abetted by a brilliant marketing campaign that simply said “ANGEKOMMEN” (in its complexity of sentiments insufficiently conveyed by the translation ARRIVED), Christian Thielemann’s inauguration as the new Music Director, anticipated for over a almost three years, finally took place. If the mood was slightly sober first, it was because the day before the Staatskapelle had played a concert in honor of Ulrike Hessler, the Semperoper’s still new Intendant largely responsible for getting Thieleman to Dresden in the first place, whose funeral had taken place that morning, after she had lost her battle with cancer, aged 57.

The gorgeous, acoustically lucky Semperoper was filled with guests of honor, socialites, and press, and eager Dresdeners who had come to hear a program of two composers connected by their love for Wagner: Hugo Wolf and Anton Bruckner. For the relative rarity of orchestrated Wolf Songs, Thielemann’s accomplice was his much beloved Renée Fleming. And what hidden gems they are! Right away the first song, “Verborgenheit”, makes you wonder why Wolf would be less popular than Richard Strauss. The aural parallels are astonishing, but then the orchestration—in this most satisfying of the five offered songs by the wonderful arch-romantic Joseph Marx—plays a part in that.

Renée Fleming exerted utmost control over her voice, situated far back at the throat, which sounded partly mannered, but mostly tender. It was hard to understand a word of what she sang, that way, and the high notes were no longer as soothing as I remember them, but that didn’t keep one from melting at the beauty of the song, especially it’s last line, “Seine Wonne, seine Pein!”. Thielemann, visibly enjoying himself, fiddled with the Staatskapelle’s dynamics like a boy on the knobs of his parents’ stereo system. A musical boy that is… one who has the interest of his prominent singer at heart. In the voice-free lacunae he swelled and just in time dimmed the band with just a hint of a swoosh of his baton. The Wolf ended, via “Er ist’s”, “Elfenlied”, and “Anakreons Grab”, with a very touching “Mignon”, a virtual drama for orchestra and soprano in the composer’s own orchestration. The encore was the Strauss song, “Befreit”, a personal favorite of Thielemann and Fleming… on this evening a horribly tender, simple and grateful, moody thing of strings and prominent clarinets, with Fleming floating above it all.

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A.Bruckner, Symphony No.8,
C.T. / Stakap Dresden
PROFIL Hänssler

After intermission Thielemann made Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (Ed.R.Haas+) rise from a pool of great calm and quiet… slowly, gently for the first movement, like a dawn or awakening, but with iron determination. The Dresdner’s added their grand, dark sound to Thielemann’s little dynamic shifts and accentuations, to the continuous tightening and re-gripping of the Adagio (with cymbal crash), to the almost nonchalant, cheeky Scherzo, and a fourth movement that, after a mini-climax near the end, gained a momentum never to be lost, and ended in majestic, organ-like sounding fashion.

The performance was received, by a crowd that very much wanted this to have been a musical moment for the ages, with abundant enthusiasm. The fact that it had been an assembly of four very impressive, but curiously self-contained movements—each and as a whole with room for improvement—went generously or willfully unnoticed. The Bruckner will very likely improve for and during Thielemann’s little inauguration tour: yesterday in Frankfurt, today in Cologne, on the 8th in Grafenegg, and then especially on the 9th at Munich’s Philharmonic Hall, just two and three days after Lorin Maazel’s season opening concerts with the Munich Philharmonic (with the same composers, Wagner and Bruckner!).

The signs are good that  “C.T.” in Dresden might be the beginning of an era, not just an episode to end after five or seven years in acrimony and wistful dreams of what might yet still have been.

Jens F. Laurson