Referring to this Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra performance, conductor Robin Ticciati remarked that the programme “goes from darkness into light”. It is a syntagm that seems to be used a lot nowadays, clearly limiting its emotional impact, no matter how accurate it is. Anyway, there was nothing too exciting in the correct rendition of the “darkness”-anchored first work. We know little about Schubert’s failed attempt to compose an opera, Adrast, based on a text by his poet friend, Johann Mayrhofer. The work, whose libretto was inspired by one of Herodotus' “Histories”, was never completed. Only eight numbers have survived, totally insufficient for us to imagine what the whole would have sounded like. The Trauermarsch (Funeral March), describing the return of Atys’ dead corpse to the court of his father Croesus, is not really a work of consequence. One single rhythmic pattern, somehow related to the one in Schubert’s Wanderer, is alternately taken by woodwinds and brass, and finally played by strings that never utter a sound until this 12-bar coda. In terms of various instruments’ tones mixing, it might be a successful exercise, but nothing more than that.

Christian Gerhaher
© BR | Astrid Ackermann

Schubert was only 20 years old when he started sketching Adrast, but he was already the author of several symphonies and of some of his most wonderful Lieder. Johannes Brahms was 25 and struggling to evade Beethoven’s long shadow when he completed his Serenade no. 1, Op.11, one of his first successful orchestral attempts. Longish and unsecure, it is, despite its merits, still an academic exercise. As this version made abundantly clear, it is the well-balanced Adagio, that mostly foretells what we believe are the qualities of the mature composer’s writing – the “Schwung”, the warmth, the melancholy, the mercurial mood changes – even if the lyrical first Trio could be perceived as essentially Brahmsian as well. Always clearly indicating the direction in which he wanted to take the instrumentalists, Ticciati took great care in shaping the long lines and in balancing the different timbres. At the same time, his conducting was not very strict rhythmically, often allowing the woodwinds to promote their chamber-like dialogues in a work originally scored as an octet.

Robin Ticciati
© BR | Astrid Ackermann

Undoubtedly, the high point of the performance was the rendering of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder where baritone Christian Gerhaher – the current standard-bearer of the German Lieder interpretative tradition – as the soloist. This was not a performance about particular vocal or instrumental nuances, although there were many relevant moments from the rising and falling, tonally unstable lines in Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n to Principal Oboe Ramón Ortega Quero’s solos (as remarkable here as they were in Brahms’ Serenade) to the sombre and factual In diesem Wetter enouncements. 

Avoiding the display of any bare emotions, Gerhaher tried to convey instead a sense of an overall, overwhelming grief. Fully cognisant of the meaning of every single word of Rückert, he let the text dictate the inflections and the colours he was using, always in consonance with the ensemble. Rarely allowed to become aware of these interpretative details, the listener was instead mesmerised by the meanders of a musical flow inevitably trying to reach the shelter of the “mother’s house” (a metaphor for the grave) of the final song's conclusion.

This performance was reviewed from the BR Klassik video stream