New Zealand Mozart, Bruckner: Orchestra Wellington / Marc Taddei (conductor). Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington. 25.5.2019. (PM)
Mozart – Symphony No.41 in C Major K. 551 ‘Jupiter’
Bruckner – Symphony No.8 in C Minor (1890 version, edited Leopold Nowak)
What more awe-inspiring an orchestral concert could there be that contained music from two of the greatest symphonists of their respective eras, works that in each composer’s case represented a kind of apex of achievement in symphonic form? This was the ‘almost too good to be true’ scenario that Orchestra Wellington presented as their second concert of 2019’s ‘Epic’ series, featuring Mozart’s final symphony, written in 1788, known popularly as the ‘Jupiter’, alongside Anton Bruckner’s last completed Symphony, the mighty Eighth, in C Minor (of which there exist three different versions – needless to say, we had time to hear only one of them!).
I thought Marc Taddei’s way with the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony wholly invigorating, the first movement here having something of a living, breathing quality. Straightaway, one noticed how the opening upward flourishes were answered with the lyrical aspect of the reply-phrase emphasised rather than the rhythm, as if two separate forces or sources of impulse were engaging. Also notable was the slight accelerando treatment given to the composer’s first-movement quotation from his own ‘Insertion aria’ Un bacio di mano, K.541, again stressing a spontaneous and impulsive response to the writing.
Throughout, the music was kept flexible as regards both tempi and dynamics, the slow movement’s bright, alert opening section set against a tenser, more dramatic minor key treatment of the second sequence, details dovetailed with adroit skill by the conductor and players. More direct was the Minuet, its usual splendour here enlivened with lithe, light-footed phrasing, the dance vigorous and infectious, and a Trio sufficiently relaxed to charm one’s sensibilities before the reprise of the dance.
As successful was the finale, which in Taddei and his players achieved a fusion of human aspiration and divine inspiration that built up both tensions and releases in irresistible surges, and creating a tremendous sense of things being ‘thrown open’, never more so than with the horns’ splendid announcement of the main four-note fugal theme, setting in motion the coda that brings this and the other themes together.
If the Mozart was enlivening, the Bruckner that followed was uplifting, to say the least. Taddei chose to perform the Leopold Nowak-edited 1890 version of the score, which was largely the composer’s revision of his original 1887 version of the work (rejected at the time by Bruckner’s choice of conductor). In the 1930s, Robert Haas had produced a ‘restored’ version of the 1890 revision, incorporating some of Bruckner’s original ideas that had been suppressed, a version still performed by many conductors. More recently the original 1887 version has found increasing favour (it was performed by Simone Young with the NZSO in 2015), so that Brucknerians have, in effect potential ‘added value’ when it comes to enjoying each separate performance of the work!
Bruckner interpreters tend to fall into two broad categories, favouring either a monumental or a volatile approach to the composer’s epic structures. Taddei, I thought, tended towards the latter, more urgently-driven manner, though he and the players gave what I think are two of the work’s most moving and valedictory moments all the time in the world to register their inherent emotion, the Trio of the Scherzo, and the coda of the slow movement – acts of creation that in my view will have ensured immortality for the composer’s much-beleaguered but increasingly vindicated shade.
The work as a whole was, in Taddei’s hands, given a buoyant flexibility, with the conductor doing his utmost at all times to balance energies with necessary breathing spaces. What at times during the outer movements might have seemed ‘stop-go’ on the surface had a deeper, organic quality when one ‘listened over’, with each of the orchestra’s different sections adept at dovetailing their own, characterful sequences of figurations, the parts ‘keeping the faith’ regarding the whole, and leading unerringly to the cataclysmic moments, be they hushed or resounding in their splendid finality. The first movement’s awesome girth of sonority here reached the point where the symphonic argument inevitably dropped to a whisper, Taddei and his players having suffused the hall’s sonic capacities to bursting point, leaving only hushed murmurings to punctuate the utterances.
At Taddei’s spirited tempo the Scherzo alternated its relentless, almost demonic energies with cataclysms of joyous release, the players exuberantly stretching forth and multiplying the rhythmic patternings to the point where it seemed the entire universe was dancing! All the more breath-catching, then, was the Trio’s awe-struck, harp-accompanied ascent to the golden-toned heights, the music taking us unerringly to the presence of the ineffable, far beyond words…
The heart of this performance was, though, the slow movement, with its indescribably moving coda, the brass players again (as the horns did in the Scherzo’s Trio) transporting our sensibilities to realms beyond description, some of the players alternating horns with Wagner tubas in certain parts, the latter giving the music a deeper throated, more burnished elegiac quality. Taddei’s approach again brought out the music’s volatility in places, the music’s sheer grandeur perhaps marginally curbed in terms of spaciousness, but with its drama and theatricality underscored, to thrilling effect.
No less a Brucknerian than conductor Otto Klemperer thought the finale of this work ‘went too far’! – few present-day interpreters would agree, and certainly not Marc Taddei, carrying his players along with him to big, bold and resolute effect, the final minutes of the work perhaps taking late-Romantic symphonic expression to an apotheosis of sorts matched subsequently only by Mahler in his ‘Symphony of a Thousand’. Heroes all, the Orchestra Wellington players, sticking with their conductor as if their lives depended on the outcome, and together realising a performance whose impact will be sure to resound within the minds of those of us who heard it for many a day to come.