I have not really followed Mariss Jansons' career but I am well aware of
how highly esteemed he is by respected fellow reviewers. Many of his
recordings with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra issued on their RCO Live
label have been greeted with acclaim. The same is true of his work with the
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on the BR Klassik label. I have even read
his name mentioned in connection with the appointment of the next chief of
the Berlin Philharmonic although his age at 71 and his health following a
very serious heart attack in 1996 militates against that possibility.
Indeed, he is due to step down this year from his Concertgebouw post.
My relative lack of acquaintance with his Bruckner prompted me to sample
this latest release of two live recordings and I am impressed. I was first
relieved to discover that here there is none of the understatement I hear
too often in Bernard Haitink's recordings with "his" orchestra. These are
brisk, energised accounts with real crispness of attack and sustained
The Sixth is closest is conception and execution to my favourite version
by Wolfgang Sawallisch on Orfeo. Like him, Jansons takes the first and third
movements relatively fast; Schaller is more mysterious and Klemperer grander
in that opening but both they and Jansons all convey the "Majestoso"
instruction in their different ways. The Adagio is certainly grand and very
elegantly played, if just a little soft-edged. The Scherzo is very sharply
accented and exploits a wide dynamic range. The Finale is a triumph,
especially given the relative shapelessness of a movement not invulnerable
to justified criticism for its lack of coherence. The balance between brass
and strings is excellent, particularly so for a live performance and Jansons
generates real thrills in the last few minutes.
The Seventh is by and large given a far more propulsive account than my
hitherto preferred recording by Kurt Sanderling. I am open to alternative
readings and it must be admitted that Sanderling's approach is the more
eccentric, with daringly distended tempi in both opening movements,
especially the Adagio. This road is taken to slightly reduced extremes by
Karajan and Skrowaczewski. Jansons' performance is more moderately
paced and although some might lament a certain lack of personality in the
beautiful playing, I revel in the voluptuous sonorities and noble conclusion
of the "Allegro moderato". The Adagio is the least successful movement in
that it courts blandness and I want greater attack to, and more luxurious
shaping of, those generous phrases. That said, compensation is afforded by
the "dark, humming sound", as the notes aptly put it, of the Wagner tubas
and the special, hushed serenity of the closing bars. The Scherzo is played
with welcome bite and the brass snarl superbly in the emphatic reiteration
of the leaping martial theme of the Finale, in which Jansons brings out all
the lyricism of the score.
These are the two symphonies by Bruckner around which there is least
musicological debate regarding the validity of the emendations and the
authenticity of the edition employed. Only the question of whether to permit
the cymbals and triangle at the climax of the Adagio of the Seventh remains
and they are here triumphantly included.
The live sound in the Concertgebouw is absolutely first rate in terms of
balance, dynamics and lack of obtrusive noise. This bargain twofer
represents the essence of Jansons' Bruckner.
Previous review: Brian Reinhart