Two very different works which make for a most enterprising, indeed surprising coupling. Jansons proves to be a master of both of them and triumphs in this wonderful concert. I wish I had been there, but short of the Tardis and a second mortgage this recording will have to suffice.
Jansons goes for beauty and restraint in the opening strains of Brahms glorious Second Symphony, appearing unaware of the urgency some conductors bring from very early in the work. That said, he does have an overall concept of the work, one where he winds up the tensions over its full span. This first movement is intensely beautiful and features, not for the only time, the lovely playing of solo horn Eric Terwilliger. The slow movement is intensely expressive. Here the strings of this splendid orchestra come into their own. The third movement is crisply played and moulded with great care for detail. This is an interpretation, not just a well groomed performance: just as it should be. The finale is definitely con spirito
, again beautifully articulated by an orchestra who are visibly involved in the drama. Jansons’ emphasis on Brahms contrapuntal writing raises the pulse rate. By the time the brass adds its weight to the closing pages this work is boiling with energy - orchestra and conductor certainly earn the bravos from an enthusiastic audience. Absolutely top class.
Jansons shows consistency with the preceding Brahms when the opening of Janáček's Mass is again beautiful and grand rather than colourful and edgy as in the classic Ancerl on Supraphon. This results in the woodwind solos gaining prominence. At the opening of the Kyrie
the brass growl impressively and the lyrical oboe line is given full weight. The sense of yearning is strong, one feels that the chorus is really begging for the Lord to have mercy. Tatiana Monogarova, the soprano, is particularly good here. The Gloria
opens with great intensity and the ferocious string writing is brilliantly articulated. There is none of the wildness of Ancerl but instead a controlled urgency which allows string details to emerge more clearly. The tenor Ludovit Ludha sings his cries of Glory with appropriate fervour and with remarkable accuracy, but I confess here I do miss Ancerl’s drama. The coda with drums and organ is excellent. In the Credo
Jansons again replaces fervour with a mix of beauty and firm rhythmic control, which, given the top class singing here, is very impressive indeed. The orchestral interlude is intensely lyrical and builds strongly to the brass fanfares which precede the first organ cadenza. The organist has chosen her stops and mixes well to make the bright colours Janáček's music seems to need. Thrilling brass and drum playing prepare for the great tenor cry about belief in one holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. At this point the bass Peter Mikuláš proves that he too is up to high intensity singing. After the drama of the Credo
is more grand and offers the superb horn section another opportunity to shine. Jansons accelerates excitingly for the brass and percussion moments but still exerts control rather than leading a wild charge at the words that we get on Supraphon. The Agnus Dei
is beautifully done by the excellent chorus at a very deliberate pace, but this allows the intoning brass to come through clearly. Here Janáček uses all his forces to close the sung part of the work. What follows makes or breaks most performances because Janáček gives first the organ and then the orchestra the final word. Iveta Apkalna proves her skill in the furious second organ cadenza choosing stops that blaze and she comes within a few seconds of Ancerl's organist's timing. The orchestral postlude comes in quite quickly but at a slower tempo than the Ancerl. The trumpets have a steely edge, as they should. The whole orchestra play with urgency in these closing bars. By this time I too was ready to call bravo
along with the Lucerne audience.
Repeated reference to Ancerl's classic 1963 recording is inevitable. His realisation of the score is as close to definitive as it is possible to imagine and it is not displaced by this new one. That Jansons, despite taking nearly four minutes longer, comes even close to his intensity, is still enough to raise this present concert performance well up the list.
Both video formats come with a menu system over which is an extract from the Brahms Symphony. I just wish they wouldn't. Also, whilst the DVD has full control of sound format, subtitles and access points, the Blu-ray gives only access to the start of the whole disc or of the Brahms. There is no direct access to the Janáček; I had to start the concert with the Brahms and then jump tracks. Also on the Blu-ray the choice between stereo and surround has to be selected on your player - it isn't mentioned in the onscreen menu. The subtitles are similarly ignored. Doesn't anyone check this stuff? The sound on the DVD is very satisfactory; that on the Blu-ray is cleaner and has a wider dynamic range, better defined and more extended treble and more spaciousness. The picture on the DVD is quite good; that on the Blu-ray much better. There is no contest between the formats in terms of quality - it has to be the Blu-ray.
(Blu-ray): Michael Cookson
Masterwork Index: Brahms symphony 2