VPO/Nott/Kaufmann: Beethoven, Strauss, Mahler

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Thursday June 23 2016

Conductor: Jonathan Nott. Jonas Kaufmann. Wiener Philharmoniker.

  • Beethoven: Overture Coriolan
  • Strauss: Tod und Verklärung
  • Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

Not Jonas Kaufmann
I really must learn to pay more attention, when I get my season’s tickets from the TCE, to where they’ve put me. It was only when I arrived there last night that I realised I was on the front row, which in my opinion shouldn’t be sold as top category at all as there’s no hope, with your nose up the violin section’s trouser legs, of hearing properly balanced sound. For the sake of completeness, I’ll write up my thoughts, but whether they resemble anyone else’s experience will be anyone’s guess.

So I’ll be brief.

  1. The Coriolan overture, as played by the Wiener Phil., simply reminded me that these days I prefer to hear Beethoven played by smaller, “hipper” orchestras. It was at once massive and humdrum.
  2. It was about 30 minutes into the concert, as we at last plunged into a proper Straussian maelstrom, that things seemed to pick up, i.e. the orchestra started to sound like it was doing what it should by rights be doing. However, Jonathan Nott’s performance had neither the mystery nor the violence you might expect in Tod und V. and, though I don’t think I dozed off, I actually missed the moment of death. The Wiener Phil. is capable of quieter playing than Nott seemed inclined to demand and anything less than mezzo-forte was a rarity.
  3. In the songs, there was at last true pianissimo playing when required, which I assumed to be in response to Kaufmann’s virtuoso performance: what the French call a “leçon de chant” – a lesson in singing, a wonderful display of technical mastery: dynamic range, variety of vocal colour, faultless tuning, daring breathing, delicacy of sentiment… His bright, ringing top notes, from the outset, and intimate, speech-like pianissimi (reminding me of Anna Caterina Antonacci) were both truly impressive. But the decision to sing all six songs meant Kaufmann’s lack of projection at the bottom was made evident – and I admit I missed a mezzo, however wonderful were his murmured “Ewig…” at the end. Wonderful to me, at least: I see on the web today that people are complaining he was sometimes inaudible from the upper balconies, partly because of his own interpretative choices and partly because of Nott’s nuance-lite conducting, straightforward to the point of insensitivity. At the end, I had the feeling Nott wasn’t quite up to the orchestra and soloist he found himself blessed with (replacing Daniele Gatti, off with a shoulder sprain).
Maestro Wenarto attacks "Von der Schönheit".


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