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Wagner and Richard Strauss: RCM Symphony Orchestra, Mikk Murdvee, Bernard Haitink, Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London, 25.2.2011 (BBr)

Siegfried Idyll (1870)

Richard Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony), op.64 (1915)

Siegfried Idyll
is the perfect apĂ©ritif for any of the big Richard Strauss tone poems, and they don't come much bigger than the Alpensinfonie. Mikk Murdvee is a 31 year old Estonian conductor whose command of the music he was conducting was good with a a clear, and easy to follow, beat, until he made the mistake of making larger, and more flamboyant, gestures as the Idyll's music became louder and more animated. Then  his grasp on the music faltered,  and the climax happened without sufficient, or satisfactory, build up even though it  was followed by a sublime, and very distinguished, coda. Murdvee certainly has all the makings of a fine conductor once he reigns in his excesses and calms down.

The main event, of course, was Strauss's Eine Alpensinfonie under the direction of Sherpa Haitink. I know that there are no Sherpas in the Alps but a work as complex as Eine Alpensinfonie needs a good guide and Haitink is one of the few conductors working today who has a strong grasp on the ebb and flow of Strauss's huge works. Starting with a gorgeous sustained pianissimo Haitink built the first climax, depicting sunrise, with a grand sweep which was carried into the ensuing allegro, where our climb starts. Cellos and bases gave a firm grounding with the full string body sounded resplendent. As we climbed we encountered the hunting party - with seventeen off stage horns - and the stream, slightly underplayed here and not perfectly characterized, amongst other things and the climax on reaching the summit was as overwhelming as the vista offered. The descent seemed to be done too quickly, but the storm offered thrills a-plenty, with the whole orchestra employed in a manic, but, it must be said, somewhat banal piece of painting. But Haitink held it all in check so this section never weighed down the overall structure. At the end all was peace and calm and we arrived home in very safe hands.

It was obvious from the performance that the young musicians loved working with Haitink, and he delivered a well studied and characteristically full blooded account of the music. This performance was a triumph for all concerned.

Bob Briggs

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