Andris Nelsons is one of our most gifted young conductors, but he has been rather ill represented on disc, releasing a few recordings on Orfeo with the CBSO that haven't gotten much attention. He's possibly the most promising of all the young talents on the map today, leading the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics regularly, being cited as one of the leading candidates for Berlin in 2018. I was thrilled to see this disc with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, which isn't nearly as expensive as most of his Orfeo discs.
Nelsons studied with Mariss Jansons, but unlike his teacher, his view of the Dvorak 9th isn't laid back, a contrast from Jansons' two recordings with the Oslo Phil and the Concertgebouw that are decidedly cool in temperature. Nelsons is on a much higher plane, finding considerably more ideas. His Dvorak is warm, supple, and carefree, always sensitive without sacrificing excitement. One of the most distinguishing elements in Nelsons' conducting is his energy, which seems to pour out of him effortlessly. It's wonderful to hear this symphony in the hands of a conductor who sees more than a warhorse to be recorded of necessity.
But Nelsons isn't necessarily out to rethink the work in the way that Nikolaus Harnoncourt did on his burnished, mesmerizing reading with the Concertgebouw. Nelsons finds strength in simplicity, letting the music unfold with touching sincerity. What's so attracting is his naturalness, which enables him to build swelling phrases without the slightest trace of self-consciousness. It's hard to describe his music-making for those who haven't heard it. I can't shake off this feeling that he's one of the greats just beginning to rise. The only thing that hints his age is his boundless energy. His ability to find perfect balance, sustaining the line without loitering or letting go too soon, has all the marks of full maturity. In the 2nd movement, for instance, his mood is tender, carefully letting the music bloom with raw emotion--it's nearly heartbreaking. It's hard to summarize the outer movements because while Nelsons stands out for his vitality, there are moments he lets reflection dominate. His genius is his ability to find gentle beauty without draining any of the drama--he heightens it through his lyricism, actually. He leans slightly on the fast side in the 3rd movement and tends towards expansiveness in the 1st and 4th, but this is music-making beyond the usual stereotyping based on tempo. The Bavarian Radio Symphony plays for him with conviction but it's clearly Nelsons' show, unlike the many recordings of this work where a front rank orchestra needs to make up for a dutiful but uninspired conductor.
The Hero's Song is new to me but Nelsons' interpretation has all the hallmarks of greatness. It's the least familiar of his five symphonic poems, often left unrecorded by conductors who record the other four. Whatever the listener's opinion on this work may be, it would be hard not to be fully enraptured by Nelsons' conducting. It's fresh and dripping with expectation that hurls us into a world of ecstasy.
I hope Nelsons continues to grow, but after hearing this disc, it seems he's already arrived. This is fresh, unpretentious conducting of the highest level.
The retirement and death of Karajan augured in an "age of iron and rust" for the Berlin Philharmonic. The Klang is deader than Elvis. Nowadays it sounds like any other first-class outfit and tensionless at that. Who would have thought that the day would come when an entire Beethoven cycle, besotted with dullness, would be withdrawn from sale by DG? This ignominy befell Uncle Claudio who nevertheless limped on to sink his toothless gums into other hapless composers. In some circles, Andris Nelsons has been acclaimed as an aspirant to the purple. While I have yet to hear him in music that matters - say, Haydn, Mozart and Bruckner - the New World Symphony is a good test. Here, I'm impressed. At long last, a contemporary imparts expectancy and tension to this music. There's excitement aplenty and cutaneous it ain't. Nelsons has a good ear for sonority - notice how the cellos billow out in the introduction - and the growl of double-basses at the close of the slow movement took me by surprise. Innigkeit is evident throughout. In way of critique, the finale is not the last word in valediction and the bass-line - where it all starts - is weak. In response, I reached for my copy of Oswald Kabasta - 1943/44 Broadcasts - it's the most badass version known to me (and no wonder it passed for a Furtwangler performance for many a year); truth to tell, Nelsons ain't far from the pin. A Hero's Song (such as it is) receives the same royal treatment. The recording is superlative.