When the first international season was announced for the reopened Festival Hall in 2007, one highlight was an appearance by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. At the time it was said that this was part of a deal for regular visits spanning four years. They have been consistent highlights of the concert seasons. A shame, then, that this weekend marks the last visit; none is scheduled for next year.
Still, you could hardly have wished for a finer note to end on. In the first half, a slimmed down orchestra was joined by soloist Mitsuko Uchida for a glittering performance of Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto. She was, perhaps, at her most persuasive in the softer moments, displaying both a wonderful poetry and delicacy, especially in the first movement cadenza. And yet that is not to suggest that anything was lacking in the meatier sections. Behind her Jansons and the orchestra provided superbly judged accompaniment, no trace here of those performances where soloist and conductor do not seem to share the same conception of the piece. Indeed, Jansons was often craning round to take his cues from her, something especially apparent when judging the orchestra's reentry following that first cadenza. I often regard the third as not being one of my favourites, yet after a reading such as this I find myself wondering why.
Following the interval, the full orchestra packed the stage for Ein heldenleben. It was glorious. From the start Strauss's rich orchestral textures were vividly realised, and in his interpretation Jansons, as he generally seems to, especially with this orchestra, brought a strong emotional sweep to the piece. There was a solid momentum too, as they moved from one section to the next.
Amongst the orchestra, there were many moments for individual players to shine, such as flautist Philippe Boucly, who provided a wonderfully acerbic depiction of Strauss's critic, and leader Radoslaw Szulc who gave the hero a sublime companion. When they went to war there were finely balanced offstage brass, followed by true shock and awe as, accompanied by a brisk snare drum, Jansons led the charge into battle. Sometimes the piece can flag a little towards the end, but there was no danger of that this time. They preserved the magic to the last as the beautiful brass chords that mark the end faded away.
Sitting where we were, quite far forward and to the left, meant regular glimpses of Jansons' face as he turned to the leader. Almost without exception, he wore a broad grin on his face. It was infectious. And judging from the reception they got, I was not alone. They played us an encore, a waltz from Rosenkavalier, with football rattles and all. As he always does with encores, Jansons had tremendous fun with it. Uchida, in the audience throughout the second half, dashed back onto the stage, crouching off to one side to get a better view. I suppose that's one of the perks of being a concert pianist!
It is a tremendous shame they aren't back next year. I hope this is rectified in future seasons. But we will doubtless see them again before too long (with luck even in Edinburgh).