Steffens in Towering Brahms Fourth Symphony

26/10/2018

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Wagner, Richard Strauss and Brahms: Allison Oakes (soprano), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Karl-Heinz Steffens (conductor), Lighthouse, Poole, 24.10.2018. (IL)

Wagner – Siegfried Idyll

Richard Strauss – Four Last Songs

Brahms – Symphony No.4 in E minor

Karl-Heinz Steffens delivered one of the most persuasive, most searching, most blistering, yet also most tender of readings of Brahms’s intense and troubled Fourth Symphony that I have ever heard in the concert hall. It received rapturous audience approval. In such a memorable performance with outstanding playing from every BSO section, I especially recall the cellos’ lovingly phrased and nuanced melody of the Andante moderato, flautist Anne Pyne’s achingly beautiful solo, and the affirmatory strident trombone voices in the powerful Passacaglia finale.

Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs has always been a firm favourite of mine. The glow and opulence of the score for large orchestra was shiningly realised by the BSO players. The solos for violin and horn were beautifully and heartfeltedly articulated. Soprano Allison Oakes who has established a reputation in dramatic roles has a strong voice with considerable powers of projection. That is fine for Wagner, but Wagner is not Richard Strauss. Normally the sheer haunting beauty of these Four Last Songs brings tears to stand in my eyes. On this occasion I was unmoved. I did not feel Ms. Oakes had sufficient empathy with the work’s autumnal warmth. I prefer the deeply understood and sympathetic expressiveness of Schwarzkopf or my own favourite, Lisa Della Casa.

The concert began with a very satisfying reading of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, blissfully tender yet with a muscular heroic centrepiece and its allusion to Wagner’s Ring hero Siegfried recalling his Journey to the Rhine.

Ian Lace

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