Nagano/CSO Brahms/Rihm last night
May 9, 2007
Last night I heard Nagano (with the Chgo Sym) for the first time in person. I actually haven't paid much attention to him or heard much by way of recordings, so I walked in with, I hope, an open mind, excited to hear--for me--a new conductor.
Nagano prefaced the music with a 15 minute (or so) talk, which he indicated was at the management's behest because of the unusual nature of the program:
Zimmermann - Stillness and Return
Schutz - Psalm 100: Jauchzet dem Herren, SWV 36
Rihm - Das Lesen der Schrift
Brahms - A German Requiem
The unusualy thing about the program was that the 4 mvmts of the Rihm were inserted between movments of the Brahms--extreme contrasts for sure.
Nagano's talk was not impressive--some of it was boilerplate stuff about the Brahms, some of it was sort of new-agey, and I felt that he could have summed up in 3 minutes what he spent 15 minutes talking about. I also didn't get a sense of how it all tied together, beyond the superficial. I got the sense that Nagano feels it's all tied together, but he didn't put that across all that effectively.
The short first "half" of the program (Zimmermann and Schutz) was enjoyable--and in the Zimmermann, some of the best musical saw playing I can remember (but it couldn't hold a candle to Roy Brooks' solo with Max Roach's M'Boom in the '80s ;-). As for hearing the Rihm inserted into the German Requiem, I was, again, prepared to give it a chance. This kind of thing is fine with me--I've heard, and hopefully will hear, other Brahms Requiems done the 'normal' way, so I don't begrudge a genuine attempt to do a bit of recontextualizing.
And I did end up "appreciating" the Rihm interjections, but I don't think I would have so much if the Brahms had been more involving.
This Requiem was astounding for me in that, for the first time in my life, I sat through an entire performance of one of my favorite pieces and not once got goosebumps. There was NO mystery in this performance. Sure, it was technically excellent--the CSO chorus especially was immaculate--but superficial. The very opening was anything but hushed, the little, but critical, ascending oboe line was delivered with little phrasing or shaping. The second movement had no mystery in the build-up, the strings had a whiff of slightly shrill original-instrumentitis, and the climaxes didn't have any of the volcanic release I've heard from all the great ones. I still enjoyed it (the Requiem, for me, is so great that it can survive almost anything), but I never felt moved.
If I had been pulled in, I very well might have responded to the Rihm as an unwelcome interloper. As it was, I enjoyed the goofy contrasts, and found myself thinking that I would enjoy the Rihm more as a 4 mvmt work standing by itself.
So, I can't say that it wasn't a good night. Brahms, Rihm (and Zimmermann and Schutz), and the players and singers kept it worthwhile. In spite of the conductor.