Mariss Jansons - His last concert - Live at Carnegie Hall. © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH

CD Spotlight

A Lovely Gesture

STEPHEN FRANCIS VASTA listens to Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons' last concert

'The home listener, even without visual evidence, can sense that all was not well.'


Until this disc arrived, I'd had no idea that the late Mariss Jansons' final concert had taken place here in New York, at Carnegie Hall in November 2019. BR Klassik's issue, despite its billing, doesn't give us quite all of it, omitting Diana Damrau's performance of Strauss's Four Last Songs. Perhaps negotiations fizzled, or perhaps BR Klassik wanted just a single disc's worth of music - although offering two short discs for the price of one has become a tenable proposition.

The heart problems the conductor had suffered since 1996 were taking their toll: online reviews of this concert consistently remark on his visible physical fatigue and weakness. (Indeed, Jansons withdrew from the following evening's scheduled program, which Vasily Petrenko conducted.) The home listener, even without visual evidence, can sense that all was not well. Intermezzo's Four Symphonic Interludes benefit from firm rhythmic grounding and tone - the high horns are particularly impressive - and the hearty swing of the waltzes.

Listen — Richard Strauss: Reisefieber und Walzerszene (Intermezzo)
(track 1, 2:24-3:19) ℗ 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The afterbeat 'pulse' in the second Interlude is effective, as are the surging triplets in the last one. But the sonority remains stubbornly grey and monochromatic even as it expands - save in one or two reed-dominated episodes - and passages with multiple moving parts are audibly untidy.

Listen — Richard Strauss: Träumerai am Kamin (Intermezzo)
(track 2, 1:13-2:00) ℗ 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

After what was apparently an extended intermission and a protracted wait for the conductor, the opening of the Brahms symphony is similarly unpromising. The start is underpowered, even dispirited.

Listen — Brahms: Allegro non troppo (Symphony No 4 in E minor, Op 98)
(track 5, 0:00-0:37) ℗ 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The rising string lines don't induce any greater outpouring of sound; the colour remains a uniform grey. Suddenly, the climactic tutti brightens, rousing Jansons to bring greater energy into the development.

Listen — Brahms: Allegro non troppo (Symphony No 4 in E minor, Op 98)
(track 5, 3:27-4:03) ℗ 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The recap, alas, doesn't bring a real sense of arrival, and the coda's mini-recap is ungainly.

The middle movements fare better. The Andante moderato's theme is subdued - the clarinet shouldn't perhaps have been quite so reined-in - and the strings' gentle, musing response fills out well. Later on, their tone is suffused with an almost elegiac warmth.

Listen — Brahms: Andante moderato (Symphony No 4 in E minor, Op 98)
(track 6, 8:10-8:53) ℗ 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The scherzo begins with a hearty tutti, the touch lightening as the music moves into its Trio. Unfortunately, much of the great finale is dull and cloudy, even in its busier moments, and the flute soloist affects a laboured rubato.

Listen — Brahms: Allegro energico e passionato (Symphony No 4 in E minor, Op 98)
(track 8, 3:14-4:04) ℗ 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The encore Hungarian Dance is clear and bright, even if the off-beat accents are heavy thuds.

Listen — Brahms: Hungarian Dance No 5 in G minor
(track 9, 0:00-0:51) ℗ 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The engineering 'places' sections and specific instruments in an unexaggerated way - the brasses reproduce with plausible depth. The restricted sense of texture may have been a function of the playing, or of the hall (or, possibly, of the WQXR broadcast aircheck). To my ears, Carnegie never regained its world-famous acoustic after the two sets of renovations in the 1980s - apparently a minority view - and the excessive resonance clouds the tuttis in the Brahms Scherzo and minimizes contrasts in the Dance.

This issue is a lovely gesture, but hardly the tribute Maestro Jansons deserved. Better to pick and choose for yourself from among his best studio recordings - including the Shostakovich Fifth from Oslo - and from various circulating airchecks.

Copyright © 23 April 2021 Stephen Francis Vasta,
New York, USA












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