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Steffen SCHLEIERMACHER (b.1960)
Relief, for orchestra [14:52]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Violin Concerto ‘To the Memory of an Angel’ (1935) [29:45]
Johann Paul von WESTHOFF (1656-1705)
Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor, ‘Imitatione delle campane’ [2:56]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No.3 in A minor, ‘Scottish’, Op.56 (1842) [42:54]
Baiba Skride (violin)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Andris Nelsons
rec. live, 22/23 February 2018, Gewandhaus Leipzig
16:9 NTSC, PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 Region Code 0 (worldwide)

To mark his official inaugural concert as new conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra the cameras were out in force for Andris Nelsons. In an Accentus-MDR-Arte and Mezzo co-production the programme promoted a new commission to symbolise the questing present, a symphonic staple that had been premiered by this very orchestra under its composer, and a crux of twentieth-century classical modernism: in other words, Steffen Schleiermacher, Mendelssohn, and Berg.

Relief is a 15-minute orchestral showpiece from a composer familiar from pianistic duties promoting Satie and Cage as well as one who contributes a number of new works to this orchestra. Textures are full of interest, ranging from percussive and brass vehemence to shimmering intensity; strands of piano and alto saxophone emerge in this co-commission, shared with the Boston Symphony, whilst rhythmic propulsion and diaphanous winds alternate and contrast. Nelsons conducts with trenchant control allowing himself the occasional half smile at the brass, happily ignoring Beecham’s instruction never to look at the brass (‘it only encourages them’). There are fine and revealing close-ups of conductor and orchestral principals, and also of the composer who takes a deserved bow at the end.

Baiba Skride is the soloist in Berg’s Violin Concertos and the two Latvian musicians make for fine partners in this work. She plays with almost supernatural clarity and purity, devoid of showy gestures, remaining still and calm in a slightly billowy blue dress. Nelsons himself eschews tails for a dark jacket. There are well-worked camera angles for those who want to follow Nelson’s imperceptible leads – there are a couple of particularly good angles from which to eavesdrop on their interplay. The most revealing moment violinistically is when Skride turns briefly to face the first violins to play along with them, turning her back on Nelsons – a moment of unusual intensity and intimacy for a musician who is supremely self-contained and self-communing. Her performance is elevated, not aloof, beautiful and not overwrought. Her encore is not the Leipzig Bach which would be the obvious choice but the D minor Sonata, known as Imitatione delle Campane of Johann Paul von Westhoff, a scion of Dresden, Wittenberg and Weimar and Bach’s senior by some twenty years. Her faultless bowing can be admired in this tour de force.

Finally, there is Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. Nelsons feels suitably relaxed to gift some ‘smiling eyes’ at some of the players, prompts the winds with his left hand, and makes some big rather windmilling grand gestures. It’s certainly a big performance too if one that wants to make its points rather too self-consciously; that slow Adagio for instance, however beautifully sustained by this great orchestra, is of a piece with a reading that never quite takes the shackles off its composer. It feels reined in, no matter how glorious the corporate sound.

Still, the final bars allow for an avalanche of corporate floral arrangements and endless handshaking from the succession of Leipzig dignitaries who rock up to the Gewandhaus stage. I could have done without this, really, but it’s all part of the show and the show in Leipzig is most assuredly on the road, and with a vengeance.

Jonathan Woolf


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