Concert Review

Maazel at 70: Richard Strauss: Le bourgeois gentilhomme & Symphonia domestica, LSO, Lorin Maazel, Barbican 22 February

The final concert in Lorin Maazel's cycle of four with the London Symphony Orchestra coupled two works by Richard Strauss. Both the suite from Le bourgeois gentilhomme and the Symphonia domestica are amongst the least heard of Strauss' major works so it was inspired programming to hear a concert featuring both in the same evening. But it might also account for the fact that there were many more vacant seats in the hall than on previous evenings.

Unlike the major Strauss tone poems - which are predominantly late nineteenth century works - both Le bourgeois and the Symphonia are from the twentieth century. The Symphonia was composed in 1902-03, about the same time as Strauss' apocalyptic opera, Salome. We hear in this symphony - played without a break between the artificially divided movements - the Strauss' lovemaking, a day in the life of their child, the reappearance of morning. Yes, the Domestica, so typical of the egotistical Strauss, is an autobiographical work. And as in Salome, the love-music is intoxicating and headily erotic. All of this was conveyed beautifully by an LSO on rather decadent form, with voluptuous string playing and passionately scented woodwind. Alexander Barantschik's gorgeous tone, in his fiendishly scored solos, suggested a rather sweet Pauline - certainly more appealing than the harridan we hear in Strauss' other autobiographical work, Ein Heldenleben. It is, of course, all too good to be true. As the glockenspiel strikes seven, we are awakened by the arguing of the parents and the build up to the climax of the work. Here, the LSO brass were graphically raucous, the massed strings uninhibited in their search for a satisfying end. When it finally happened it was triumphant.

Earlier in the evening we had heard a much reduced LSO play Strauss' Baroque inspired masterpiece, Le bourgeois gentilhomme. The nine basses needed for the symphony are here reduced to two, the violins reduced to a mere five and so on. And what we heard was chamber music playing of the most delicious refinement. The figuration was busily played, and again the solo violin of Alexander Barantschik was superbly delineated, with the most exposed of harmonics gloriously sustained. Maazel's delicate conducting, spacious yet free, allowed us to hear every one of the nine miniatures that comprise this work as if freshly minted. The Fencing Master scene was dashingly played, the final waltz for the Kitchen Boy spun off in an echt Viennese manner. It was a glorious performance.

All the concerts I have heard in this remarkable series celebrating Lorin Maazel's 70th birthday have one thing in common: a sense that making music can be (and should be) pure enjoyment. The level of interaction between conductor and orchestra has never been less than inspired and one feels both have enjoyed the experience. Although Lorin Maazel can only have one seventieth birthday, I hope he will find a reason to return to the LSO more often because I cannot remember a series of concerts I have enjoyed more.


Marc Bridle

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