Photo of Christian Thielemann taken this week during rehearsals

Friday, April 16, 2021

Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich

It was meant to be Bruckner 5 to mark what was, surprisingly, Christian Thielemann’s debut with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. That said, he is no stranger to Munich having previously headed the Philharmonic.

This no-audience Covid-dictated concert opened with Richard Strauss’s short and stirring Fanfare for the Vienna Philharmonic, scored for brass and timpani, played sonorously and gleamingly as a celebratory flourish.

On a far more expansive scale is the composer’s Sonatina No.1 (‘From the workshop of an invalid’ – in 1943 the elderly Strauss was recovering from flu and wished to stave off boredom) scored for sixteen wind instruments, including four horns, bass clarinet, bassoons and contrabassoon: a rich supporting soundworld on top of which are flutes, oboes and clarinets.

Sonatina No.1 (there’s a Second) is a perplexing opus, recognisably Straussian, and of scrupulous craftsmanship; yet, over the three spacious movements, one may not feel totally entranced by the (always melodic) ideas or the working-out of them while also feeling decidedly ungrateful to be harbouring reservations given the skill of the writing. No doubts about the excellent performance – shapely and agile – presided over watchfully by Thielemann.

With the BRSO returned to a unity, string-players making their first appearance (not a mask to be seen, mind), the broadcast ended with Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale – a concise Symphony in all but name if without a slow movement, and as expressively true to the composer as anything he wrote. From the off this reading was potent and would become springy, poetic and exhilarating, Thielemann ebbing and flowing the music persuasively, rendering it with a light touch and micro attention to dynamics, all faithfully relayed by BR. Good picture, too, taking the observer close to the action.