Lucerne Festival (3):Jansons’ Mahler 2 Roadshow Reaches Lucerne

 Lucerne Festival (3): Mahler  Genia Kühmeier (soprano), Gerhild Romberger (alto), WDR Radio Choir, Bavarian Radio Chorus, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mariss Jansons (conductor), Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Lucerne, 8.9.2013 (JR)

Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern Photo Copyright: Priska Ketterer.
Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern
Photo Copyright: Priska Ketterer.

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”

Jansons and the Bavarians have been touring a great deal this summer and their Mahler 2 has been played recently in Saarbrücken, Salzburg, at the Proms, and at the Edinburgh Festival. They also went to the Berlin Musikfest but there stuck to Bartok. Lucerne was at the end of their summer touring and the orchestra, though they played very well, seemed somewhat tired.

From the urgency of Janson’s first notes meant we knew however that we were going to be in business. Jansons is, of course, no longer the young firebrand we saw and heard in the Seventies and Eighties; at 70 (hard to believe), whilst he can still jump on the podium, he can afford to relax. He has become a less muscular conductor and this allowed the symphony to breathe. At times however, especially in the first movement, too much so and the movement almost fell apart. For the most part he controlled the lyrical passages with extreme delicacy and contrasted the more violent passages with blazing power. The Hall in Lucerne has excellent acoustics, unlike the Albert Hall, and is tailor-made for a behemoth of a symphony employing both choral forces, two soloists and organ.

I would have preferred the choir to have been on stage from the outset rather than traipsing on after the first movement; it disrupted the musical flow though it gave the orchestra a rest and chance to re-tune.

The charming slow movement was unhurried (Jansons always keeping to the conductor’s markings) and showed off the orchestra’s silken string tone to perfection.

The Scherzo had sufficient swagger but, as usual, the work really began to weave its magic spell in the last two movements.

Jansons cleverly placed the soloists in front of the harps, behind the second violins. Alto soloist Gerhild Romberger did not need a score for “O Röschen rot” which allowed her to be expressive not only with her voice but with her hands. Her account of the Urlicht was beautiful and moving, her diction could not have been clearer. Sadly her first note was just off the mark, very difficult to pitch I will admit given help neither from the last chord of the preceding movement nor orchestral accompaniment. “O glaube” lacked that last degree of emotion, but this was Jansons’ interpretation throughout – coherent, unshowy, deliberately eschewing histrionics and excess emotion.

With a thump and a crash from the percussion we were into the final lap. The hall provides numerous cavities in which to conceal the offstage brass band, and Jansons moved them round the back and sides of the hall, as the movement progressed, to perfect effect. The chorus began seated, starting the “Aufersteh’na cappella, and they impressed throughout; I was particularly taken by the sonorous basses from Munich and Cologne.

Jansons is a master of the big moment and there are several of these in the Finale. Lucerne is one of the few musical venues which excels at handing out free cough sweets (in waxed paper) to the audience and they are in plentiful supply. At this evening’s concert they also amusingly handed out earplugs, sponsored by the Swiss Association for the Prevention of Accidents (or it might perhaps have been Deafness). They were not needed; the massed forces were certainly loud enough but the sound in the hall never came close to shattering the eardrums.

Genia Kühmeier, pure in tone, did not quite soar through the darkness of the choral section of the last movement. The final pages cannot however fail, nor did they. Hampered at the Albert Hall by having to use an electronic organ (because of pitch problems), Jansons had no such impediment in Lucerne and the hall’s huge modern organ underscored the massive outburst of choir and orchestra in the final peroration. Jansons used church bells not tubular bells giving the piece added religiosity, but I was somehow not lifted into Seventh Heaven by this performance.

 John Rhodes