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Mariss Jansons (conductor)
His Last Concert – Live at Carnegie Hall

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Four Symphonic Interludes from Intermezzo, Op. 72, TrV 246a (1919-23) [23:43]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 (1885) [43:00]
Encore: Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor (orchestrated by Albert Parlow) [5:33]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
rec. live, 8th November 2019, Carnegie Hall, New York City
BR KLASSIK 900192 [72:20]

I refer you to Michael Cookson’s review of this same disc for background information regarding the late Mariss Jansons, the music he conducts here and the concert from which this issue is derived.

It was Jansons’ last public appearance and features both music and an orchestra with which he had a special affinity. The venue was Carnegie Hall and the sound is rich, warm and full, largely distraction-free apart from the occasional cough and the faint intrusion in the background of wailing sirens. Enthusiastic applause is retained to maintain the live concert atmosphere.

The four symphonic Interludes from Intermezzo, played as a concert suite, are not programmed as often as Strauss’ more celebrated orchestral works and they are not perhaps among his finest music but they bear all the hallmarks of Strauss’ distinctive style and are especially reminiscent of the incidental music or suites from Der Rosenkavalier, his greatest success. It is music very varied in mood from the tender and reflective to the upbeat and boisterous; my own point of comparison happens to be Jeffrey Tate’s recording of the suite in the early 90’s in Rotterdam on EMI which I find to be rather more energised in the two outer movements and to have more Innigkeit in the slow central two. Despite their function as music to introduce, elaborate and intensify the action of the opera, these four intermezzi can just as easily be appreciated as “absolute” rather than “programmatic” music and for me, Tate’s studio account is more absorbing and animated than Jansons’ live performance here.

There is of course extensive competition in the catalogue for Brahms’ grand, gloomy Fourth Symphony, especially from Furtwängler, Karajan, Klemperer, Levine and, more recently, Thielemann. I would not say that there is anything especially gripping about Jansons’ account, but everything about it is weighty and assured with prominent timpani even if not all is perfection, technically: there are a couple of horn bloopers but generally, of course, this is one of the world’s great orchestras. Janson’s relaxed manner means that for me, some of the tension and intensity of the music is sacrificed to creating a mighty, monolithic but rather static impression. However, the Allegro third movement is certainly giocoso and lively enough and Jansons makes the variations of the mighty Passacaglia fourth movement the cumulative and compelling climax they should be.

The opening of the Hungarian Dance encore is warmly applauded and delivers a welcome injection of high spirits and swooning schmaltz to send the audience out into a cold night with a glow in their hearts.

While this is a most enjoyable programme, especially the Brahms symphony, to hear Jansons at his very best, I would turn to the recent issue of his Bruckner symphonies I reviewed here or if you specifically want to hear him excel in Strauss’ music, I recommend this recording which I reviewed back in March 2017.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Michael Cookson



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