It was a fearsome spectacle. From the outset of Saturday's performance of Shostakovich's 10th symphony, the quality of the sound the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra produced under Mariss Jansons was stunning, wonderfully rich and yet with the kind of unified precision in the strings that one expects from the Cleveland Orchestra. Time and again he whipped them up into furious, frenzied climaxes, the players never missing a beat, and yet so keen was his sense of structure that he was able to transition naturally to the quieter passages and their bleak and depressing landscape without ever losing momentum.
Perhaps most harrowing was the second movement, ostensibly a portrait of Stalin, the militaristic opening powerfully calling to mind his terrors, vast parades of weaponry, and tanks crushing dissent.
Without fail, in solo passages, the members of the orchestra distinguished themselves: violinist Padoslaw Szulc, oboist Stefan Schilli, bassoonist Eberhard Marschall and, especially, clarinetist Stafan Schilling played superbly (I trust those names are correct - the programme lists multiple principals).
Throughout, Jansons displayed an energy, lurching and pouncing on the podium, such that it would never have occurred to the unknowing observer that he has suffered several heart attacks. He also provided an object lesson to those who question what a conductor actually does. Especially at the start, he tightly controlled his forces, cuing in sections with the utmost precision. At other times, he was like the organiser of a firework display, lighting the blue touch paper and then easing back to enjoy the resulting explosion. Indeed, his gestures, whether the giant flourish with which he finished or the tiny holding up of single finger, had a clearly audible impact on the sound. This is an ensemble drilled to perfection.
It was rapturously received. So much so that two encores followed, filling out the admittedly fairly light programme (shorn of these, there was barely an hour and ten minutes of music). The first was Panorama from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, bolstered by some beautiful harp playing, while for the second it was back to Shostakovich and Der Trunkenbold entr'acte from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (thanks to @Phillip_Wood and @WappingMark for identifying these). Both were played with the same style and elan that had marked the whole concert.
The only dark spot was the first work in the programme: Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Sadly, it was ruined by Bo Skovhus's singing. His voice was somewhat ugly, worse, it strained and cracked at high volumes, and in a not terribly demanding piece that's worrying. More's the pity, it completely distracted from Jansons' delicate and sublimely beautiful accompaniment. The second song made me dearly wish to hear them do the first symphony (with which it shares a theme).
The Mahler notwithstanding, wild horses will not keep me from their next visit to the South Bank, which includes Beethoven's third concerto with Uchida and Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.