Thieleman Gives Bold, Decisive, Determined Account of Bruckner’s Fourth

GermanyGermany  Wagner, Schubert & Bruckner: Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann, Semperoper, Dresden, 18.5.2015. (MC).

hristian Thielemann, photo Matthias Creutziger
Christian Thielemann, photo Matthias Creutziger

Wagner: ‘Blick’ ich umher in diesem edlen Kreise’ from Tannhauser
Schubert: ‘Der Jäger ruhte hingegossen’ from Alfonso und Estrella, D732
Wagner: ‘Was duftet doch der Flieder’ from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Schubert: ‘Sei mir gegrüßt, o Sonne’ from Alfonso und Estrella, D732
Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 ‘Romantic’

The combination of Wagner and Schubert opera arias sung by Christian Gerhaher with Bruckner‘s Symphony No. 4 was an enticing prospect especially when performed  by the Staatskapelle Dresden under Christian Thielemann. To see Thielemann eagerly mount the podium is a reassuring sight with the audience guaranteed a resolute, no-nonsense approach.

It was in 2009 at the Philharmonie, Berlin when I first saw baritone Christian Gerhaher perform as a soloist in Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Sir Simon Rattle. Goodness knows why I didn’t immediately warm to Gerhaher’s voice but now I consider him as one of the foremost baritones on the international stage today. This programme of arias from Wagner Tannhauser and Der Meistersinger together with a pair of rarely heard yet worthy arias from Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella was repertoire made for Gerhaher.

Looking a touch nervous in front of this capacity Semperoper audience Gerhaher instantly produced his glorious singing sounding fresh and spontaneous with the vocal heft to be heard over the orchestral accompaniment. With apt feeling for the texts Gerhaher demonstrated his remarkably consistent voice without excessive vibrato and no annoying mannerisms. I loved the way the expressive Gerhaher darkened his tone in ‘Blick’ ich umher in diesem edlen Kreise’ from Tannhauser and the aching beauty of ‘Was duftet doch der Flieder’from Die Meistersinger was heartfelt. In truth one could hardly ask for a more polished vocal performance assisted by the peerless orchestral support from the Staatskapelle Dresden.

There are a number of excellent Bruckner interpreters around today but none better than Staatskapelle Dresden especially with Christian Thielemann, an experienced Brucknerian, at the helm. In the much revised Symphony No. 4Romantic’ Thielemann chose to conduct the version of 1878/1880 edited by Leopold Nowak. It’s the one given at the première in 1881 under Hans Richter – a version described by composer and musicologist Robert Simpson as “clean and lean”. I relished every second of this captivating performance of such an elevated standard that sounded stunning in the marvellous Semperoper acoustic. The sheer force of the symphonic power generated by the Staatskapelle almost pinned me back in the seat. Impressive too is how the orchestra built and sustained its crescendos.

But Thielemann knows it’s not all about raw energy delivering outstanding subtlety in the contrasting episodes of nature music. On the surface the Adagio harboured all the satisfying calmness of a gentle Tyrolean stroll, evoking verdant pastures and ice-cold streams, with Thielemann developing an elusive tension-laden undertow. The great climax was accomplished magnificently without feeling strained. Tuned to perfection the Dresden brass section in the Scherzo blazed out to stunning effect; I doubt the heavily engaged trumpets and horns have ever sounded better. One could feel the adrenaline being generated with a tumultuous weight of sound as Thielemann was able to drive the Staatskapelle hard in a way that lesser players would have folded. Bold, decisive and determined Thielemann presided over a magnificently inspiring Bruckner interpretation that will stay long in the memory.

Michael Cookson

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