Andris Nelsons unleashes Vienna in Paris

FranceFrance Gubaidulina, Shostakovich, Dvořák: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Andris Nelsons (conductor). Théâtre des Champs Élysées, Paris, 6.11.2022. (LV)

The Vienna Philharmonic at the Théâtre Champs Élysées © Dan Krajcman

Gubaidulina – ‘Fairytale Poem’
Shostakovich – Symphony No.9
Dvořák – Symphony No.6
Johann Strauss II – ‘Wo die Zitronen blühn’ (encore)

Andris Nelsons brought the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to Paris with their A-team first violins led by concertmaster Rainer Honeck (reportedly playing Ivry Gitlis’s Strad), and unleashed them in a curious intersection of Gubaidulina, Shostakovich and Dvořák.

Since its initial rejection a century and a half ago, Dvořák’s Symphony No.6 has become a familiar part of the orchestra’s repertoire, and with Nelsons at the helm it was equal parts lean, verdant Dvořák and rich, autumnal Brahms. The tempo for the Allegro non tanto was full of light and nicely judged, the bass a bit heavy; as soon as the woodwinds came into play, as close to rustic as the exquisite Viennese winds can be, the music took on wings. The little flute riff was full of the breath of life, and the horns were in gloriously golden hunting mode. This was not like the marmoreal VPO under Herbert Blomstedt at Salzburg and Grafenegg last September, and at the end they accelerated thrillingly before a surprisingly casual final peroration.

The last three movements were full of similar miracles. The violins made some pretty glorious sounds in the Adagio, and the way Nelsons put together the moving parts after the big timpani outburst was sheer, mesmerizing wizardry. The Scherzo (Furiant) was thick and the last statement not antic enough, and the second violins noodled more than pulsed, but it was irresistibly infectious nonetheless, and the second theme in the Trio was achingly beautiful. Nelsons and the orchestra did everything they could for the Finale with a wonderfully hushed opening, and if they could not completely overcome the slight nature of the main theme, Nelsons made sure that the events it triggers were delightfully consequential. With the brief fugue as fast as possible, the orchestra swept Dvořák and the audience up in a headlong rush to the blazing conclusion.

The Eiffel Tower after the Vienna Philharmonic © Dan Krajcman

Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony before intermission was more of a good-natured, magical mystery tour than the savage mockery it can be. Despite being composed in the aftermath of WWII, it sounded like a mainstream classical symphony. The violins were untidy at first, but once the trombone nailed its big, two-note solo and the massed strings chimed in for first time, it was obvious that something seriously entertaining, definitely not too heavy, was going on. The flanking waves of first violin sounds in the Moderato, the flute solo at the end, the big Viennese chords, the implacable bassoon solo, the boisterous march and the little tour de force Presto all contributed to the fun.

The concert had begun with Sofia Gubaidulina’s own mystery tour about the little piece of chalk, the score’s chamber orchestra forces moving in and out of shadows, responding to the story’s poignant cold light. The evening ended with Johann Strauss II’s ‘Wo die Zitronen blühn’ in which the orchestra sounded most like the corporate Wiener Philharmoniker, getting all the balances right as the relentlessly charming waltz wore on, and the audience danced into the night.

Laurence Vittes

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