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Richard Wagner

Overture, Tannhauser
Gotterdammerung - Siegfried's Rhine Journey
Lohengrin - Prelude Act 3
Gotterdammerung - Siegfried's Funeral Music
Tannhauser - Bacchanale
Lohengrin - Prelude Act 1
Die Walkure - Ride of the Valkyries

Bavarian Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
Mihoko Fujimura mezzo-soprano

Royal Festival Hall, London 8 March 2008

Years ago this might have been a commonplace programme, when "bleeding chunks" (Tovey) of operatic excerpts out of context consituted regular concert fare.

Well, practically a whole evening of them was a rare and intriguing opportunity to reconsider the phenomenon, and it clearly delighted a substantial (but far from full) audience of Festival Hall "Saturday nighters" (characterised to us by one regular concert and opera goer as people who don't know that you shouldn't clap after each Wesendonck song).

This programme had been given twice on preceding evenings in Munich, surely to full houses of loyalists, before arriving, perfectly honed, in London.

The huge orchestra, with serried ranks of gleaming brass, held out promise of aural splendour which was exciting for several minutes, but thereafter for us palled, as our thoughts turned to the place of international touring by symphony orchestras, and to cultural/financial issues at a time when many British arts organisations are reeling from drastic curtailment of funding.

The grandiosity of the whole thing, and of Wagner's ethos, engenders resistance. Sonic brilliance is for us - far from complete Wagnerians and clearly speaking for a small minority - way down in the list of significant parameters, and is not something we would normally relish for two hours straight off.

Most successful as a concert item was the 1861 scène de ballet, interpolated into the 1845 Tannhauser overture, which revived our flagging spirits at the start of the second half. It was followed by an oasis of calm in the Wesendonck-Lieder (originally with piano accompaniment) for which most of the players vacated the stage to a largish chamber orchestra, which accompanied Mihoko Fujimura, one of the best mezzos for this repertoire now before the public, in orchestrations mostly by Mottl. Whether the six songs together actually make for a good cycle is questionable? She sang with suitable intimacy, allowing herself occasionally a swelling of her tone to take account of the large auditorium, and Jansons backed her with subtlety and discretion.

A strange evening and one which, at the end, we did not regret having attended; but we would think twice about booking for a similar event in the future.

Peter Grahame Woolf

For a far fuller & far more sympathetic review of this unusual evening see Colin Anderson of Classical Source.

And for a mercilless dismissal of the same farrago, Music Web !

Note: Jansons has previously recorded Wagner Overtures and Orchestral Music with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra