What makes a truly great conductor? Flawless technique for starters - expressive and communicative. Inherent musicality for sure. Passion certainly. High on the list of requirements must also be the ability to nurture understanding and trust between director and musicians. This, one senses, is the cornerstone underpinning Mariss Jansons’ ability to craft such a polished sound from his Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
On Monday night at a sold out Usher Hall the audience were treated to an all-meat programme of Strauss and Sibelius. Also Sprach Zarathustra is most commonly associated with Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, but was inspired by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's four-volume work on morality and mortality.
A few unsure entries from the brass aside, it was an otherwise open and flowing account of Strauss’s symphonic poem. Some wonderfully expressive solo and ensemble performances from the section leaders revealed the quality of the Bavarian band. However, we were left to wonder why the recently refurbished in-house organ was left vacant, instead using an inferior electrical substitute to the right of the stage.
Sibelius’s second symphony, an exploration beyond the traditional, requires a keen eye kept on the meter, a fluidity which keeps the journey moving: from solemn and austere in the first movement allegretto, through the furious and unforgiving andante to major key resolution in the Finale. What this Festival audience witnessed was a study in old-school interpretation, fastidious in detail, a glorious expression of musicianship and technique.
Jansons commands a wonderous response from his players, at times building momentum to ecstatic release, at others drawing the finest pianissimo, the full spectrum between at his disposal. Expect little short of excellence from one of the finest conductors in the world.
Jansons apart, the star-of-the-evening award must surely go to Konzertmeister Andreas Röhn, a consummate leader whose animated performance was as close to perfection as it gets.
© John Bell 28 August 2007. First published on EdinburghGuide.com
See also: Radio Symphony Orchestra www.br-online.de/kultur-szene/klassik_e/pages/so/