Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/ Nelsons
Royal Festival Hall, London
Andris Nelsons is now in charge of leading orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic, and the two couldn’t be more different. As the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s recent recordings and appearances at this summer’s Proms confirmed, Nelsons has yet to curb their lookat-us brashness, while in the Leipzig Gewandhaus he has inherited one of Europe’s most subtle and tonally characterful ensembles.
He officially became Gewand– hauskapellmeister in February, and this week he brought his orchestra to London for the first time for a couple of concerts at the RFH. Both featured symphonies by Mahler, a composer prominent in his repertoire when he was chief conductor of the City of Birmingham SO, and with whom his interpretations increased steadily in authority during his seven years there.
As the First Symphony in the second of the RFH concerts confirmed, there’s no doubting the power and theatricality that Nelsons brings to this music. As the central pair of movements showed, he still has a tendency to linger just a bit too long over expressive details, though with an orchestra capable of such refined and transparent string playing, that was easy to excuse. He’d made rather heavy weather of some of the slower music in the opening movement too, but the finale was irresistible, sweeping all before it on a flood of brass tone that never overwhelmed the rest of the orchestral picture.
The concert began with Māra, by Nelsons’ fellow Latvian Andris Dzenītis, which the orchestra had premiered in Leipzig five days earlier. Based on ideas from Latvian mythology, it’s a 25-minute tone poem, full of assertive gestures that dissolve into constellations of tuned percussion and fluttering woodwind, but leave little that’s memorable behind. Then came some Tchaikovsky. Liza’s Arioso from the last act of The Queen of Spades and Tatyana’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin certainly got the full diva treatment from Kristine Opolais, with stagey gestures and pressurised tone. At times it almost seemed Tosca was writing the letter rather than the bookish country girl immortalised by Pushkin and Tchaikovsky, but the Opolais fan club evident in tonight’s audience didn’t seem to mind.
Power and theatricality ... Andris Nelsons