Leipzig Ge­wand­haus Orches­tra/ Nel­sons

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★★★★☆

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.

An­drew Clements

Power and the­atri­cal­ity ... An­dris Nel­sons

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