Switzerland Lucerne Festival  – Rihm, Bruckner: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam / Daniele Gatti (conductor), Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Lucerne (KKL), 4.9.2017 (JR)
Rihm – IN-SCHRIFT
Bruckner – Symphony No.9
Rihm’s In-Schrift (Inscription) was written some twenty years ago, specifically for the huge cavernous space of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The piece may well have worked well there, but in the confines of an admittedly large, modern shoe-box concert hall, such as the KKL in Lucerne with its acoustic wizardry, it came over as an overblown assault on the eardrums. And a rather depressing one at that. Fluttering flutes start the piece off, impressive in their own way, followed by a battery of tubular bells, then six growling trombones, then some high-pitched whistling and finally five percussionists on side drums (fff), bongos and wood-blocks. The trombones brought the slumberings of Fafner, Wagner’s dragon in Siegfried to mind. It may well have been played splendidly, but I missed the point. There was one lone and loud “Bravo!” near me, so someone liked it. The empty seats round me – and those who only appeared after the interval – tells me that some people knew what to expect.
So it was with a degree of anticipation that I looked forward to hearing one of the world’s greatest Bruckner orchestras play Bruckner’s valedictory and unfinished last symphony, dedicated to God (no less), a work that can and should transport the listener into the next world. Sadly, this performance missed the mark by a long shot. First, the positives: the orchestra were simply a wonder. The strings were rich and mellow right to the back desks (La Scala and City of Birmingham on previous evenings are simply no match – but few orchestras are), the woodwind were collectively and individually a glory, the brass sumptuous and flawless. They knew their Bruckner. Gatti, however, who impresses me with his Mahler, finds Bruckner more of a challenge. He did not use a score, but the great spans eluded him. He concentrated on details, on changes of tempi, which suits Mahler no end, but Bruckner needs a steady hand on the tiller – it needs a pulse. Often the tempo was simply too slow; Gatti’s interpretation was weighty rather than springy. He avoided maximum decibels, and some impact was lost as a result, though he did not shy away from the great dissonance in the final slow movement. The final page was serene and the audience hushed (though one lone musical ignoramus started applauding at the exciting finish of the Scherzo). To his credit, we heard no third-party final movement, and no Te Deum. Some will say his reading was passionate, fervent, and pious; certainly, everything was clearly delineated but I wanted to be transported to the next world, instead I transported myself, hot-foot, to the adjoining railway station for the earliest train home. I should have wanted to linger by the magnificent lake, gaze at the nearby mountains and stars and wonder about an afterlife. Instead I dwelt on fond recollections of previous performances under Bernard Haitink, Claudio Abbado and Günter Wand.
For a review of this concert at the BBC Proms click here.