Last year, the Müncher Philharmoniker celebrated its 120th anniversary. They certainly have a lot to celebrate. Their track record is one of immaculate performances under the baton of a colossal number of historic figures, ever since Mahler premièred two of his symphonies with them. 17 years in the irreplaceable hands of Sergiu Celibidache can’t have hurt either.

Lorin Maazel © Andrew Garn
Lorin Maazel
© Andrew Garn

Lorin Maazel’s appointment as Chief Conductor in 2012 led the mayor of Munich to publicly express his delight at the prospect of seeing Maazel “motivate and inspire excellence”. Maazel doesn’t have much time to do this – Valery Gergiev has already been lined up as his successor from 2015. Yet, his three years in the job will unquestionably leave a venerable footprint. Madrid is no exception to the effect this orchestra causes, infallibly luring audiences from around the world. A capacity hall was bursting with the anticipation one expects from a première.

Opening the evening were Brahm’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn in its orchestral version, his first conception of this work being for two pianos. This was strikingly apt as a choice to begin a concert that would radiate elegance throughout. The refined Chorale St. Antoni – its initial attribution to Haydn now widely challenged – gave Brahms the perfect springboard, one that Maazel built on. He led an insightful interpretation, letting every variation stand in its own right while keeping the integrity of the piece intact. All the Classicism was there, as was the Romantic pulsations.

Brahms followed Brahms, his Double Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, with Lorenz Nasturica and Daniel Müller-Schott the soloists. Both proved good partners in crime, feeding endless energy to each other; Nasturica went as far as jumping up and down to accompany some of his playful syncopations in the first movement. Müller-Schott’s cello, on the other hand, added warmth and gravity in key moments. Both played boldly, beautifully and generously – as an encore, they offered Johan Halvorsen’s Passacaglia, a neck-breaking arrangement of Handel’s score for harpsichord (HWV 432).

But enough about music. Let’s talk about silences. Sibelius’s Symphony No.2 builds on a three-note motive, but also on the absence of it – the stillness between the sounds. Maazel’s unrushed conducting made those silences understandable, meaningful. They were even more moving than the music itself, which was superb – if only every orchestra had brass and wind sections like the Münchner Philharmoniker. Silences felt like the pillars of the symphony and the results were astonishing.

****1