This concert from the 2012 Salzburg Festival received rapturous applause from the packed audience as well as enthusiastic press coverage. The style of the performances has much in common with another recent issue by Jansons with the Bavarian orchestra by emphasising the warm and tonally rich characteristics of the music and by having orchestras with the tonal and technical resources capable of portraying such views to advantage.
The concert opens with that very well known tone poem by Richard Strauss, his Don Juan. This piece opens with a striding horn motif which we can take to be a portrayal of Don Juan in up-beat hunting mode. There is a very egotistical element about this theme that vividly portrays that side of Don Juan and it has lead to many memorable displays of horn playing. Performances led by Reiner, Szell and Solti for example, have been etched into the memory of record collectors through this figure which finally occurs in full glory towards the end. In between there is an extensive quieter section which suggests more of the seducer rather than the predator. This central part can often be overshadowed by the more exuberant outer sections. This does not happen here as Jansons places considerable emphasis upon the central episode that is played with almost loving care and with every opportunity to luxuriate in the orchestral textures found there. This emphasis changes the overall effect of the piece and the apparent nature of Don Juan who is more amenable perhaps and less openly predatory.
The Wagner Wesendonck-lieder is a set of love texts and, bearing in mind the change of emphasis of the Don Juan, may thus acquire unintentional meaning not anticipated by Wagner. The Swedish soprano, Nina Stemme, sings these texts with utter commitment and fully justifies her position as one of the leading sopranos for music such as this requiring a voice such as hers. It is easy to imagine her in roles within Wagner operas for instance. She has a powerful voice of tonal depth and is an ideal soloist here. In this she is fully supported by Jansons and the VPO.
The concert concludes with a warmly affectionate performance of the Brahms first symphony, which in common with the rest of this concert and also the Bavarian concert, lays great emphasis upon tonal and textural considerations. The great horn theme at the beginning of the final movement is a good example, played at a very steady speed and in such a manner as to allow the answering trombones to make the most of their chordal parts. The tempo picks up after this but the example still serves as indicative of Janson's willingness to make the most of such textural moments. Brahms can rarely have sounded so opulent and magisterial as here. The cost, and there is always a cost, is a reduction of dramatic drive which other conductors would prefer to concentrate on. One example being Barenboim's own performance in Oxford in 2010 with the BPO and also available on a fine Euroarts Blu-ray/DVD disc.
The recording does full justice to Jansons' conception and the playing of the VPO and is presented in DTS 5.0 and stereo. The lack of a separate sub-woofer channel does not seem to be significant on this occasion and the sound is full ranging and gives clarity and stage depth. The camera work is typical of the Brian Large team and is clear, detailed but not invasive. Neither is it hyper-active so not distracting in intensity. Sub-titles are provided for the Wagner and the sleeve notes are informative and sufficient.
I would suggest that this disc will appeal to those who view these works in more of a warmly affectionate manner and who respond in particular to the actual sound worlds of the composers. Those who see these works as primarily dramatic statements may find some of the interpretive decisions a little compromising of such dramatic drive.
Nevertheless, it must be stressed that there are always equally valid ways of approaching most works of music and that Jansons clearly has a view that communicated enormously well to the audience and to the attending press. On those terms this disc certainly succeeds and is deserving of serious consideration as a satisfying potential purchase.
This is a performance that's almost too luxurious. From the sensual glories of Strauss's Don Juan and Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, to Mariss Janson's lavishly upholstered rendition of Brahms's First Symphony, the listener is treated to the Vienna Philharmonic in all its velvety glory. Sometimes, however, not least in the Brahms, you hanker for a more urgent interpretation.
Still, there's no lack of attack at the beginning of the Strauss, as Jansons brilliantly contrasts Don Juan's bravura and his famous seductive skills. Liquid woodwind solos (not least from the oboist), a superb rallying horn section and the sumptuous Viennese strings brilliantly colour Strauss's tone poem. It's here that Jansons is at his most theatrical.
Nina Stemme's voice is becoming much more buttery as time goes on and her rendition of the Wesendonck Lieder is particularly full-flavoured. Jansons responds with a chilling 'Im Treibhaus', brilliantly setting up the richer glories of 'Schmerzen'. The throbbing viola and cello accompaniment in 'Träume' is particularly magnificent, closing the strong first half of this concert from the 2012 Salzburg Festival.
I'm less convinced by what happens after the interval. Jansons is a great symphonic interpreter, as revealed by his performances of Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky and Mahler at this year's Festival, but there's something oddly self-regarding about his Brahms. It's as if the whole interpretation is weighed down with the importance of the work, rather than its sense of urgency and achievement. Tenacious though the first movement may be, with superb work from the VPO timpanist, the central movements are beautiful but oddly disengaging.
Jansons ratchets up the tension at the beginning of the Finale, but rather than pushing through to C major, as Brahms emulates his idol Beethoven, Jansons seems to be looking back rather than forward. The main theme has not the nobility of a young man in triumph, but an old man surveying his accomplishments. Jansons might be playing a longer architectural game, yet too often you anticipate climaxes and are subsequently left disappointed by their arrival. Luxury is all well and good, but it should never hinder the thrills and spills of symphonic drama.
Marris Jansons has long been a favorite of mine, some years my wife and I met him after sneaking up the back stairs at Leicester's De-Montfort Hall, as a plus for me he signed all my Chandos Tchaikovsky CD's. This Blu-ray deserves top marks for performance and quality of video and sound.