Kent Nagano is one of the most complete conductors and some years ago vividly impressed the Mozarteum audiences when he came with the Montreal Symphony. Now he was back with the Hamburg Philharmonic at the Colón with two programmes focussed on German/Austrian Postromantics and they became a major event of the season.
Nagano has had a great European career which in principle one wouldn´t expect from a Californian of Japanese ascendance, but he explains that he was trained by a German teacher who imbued him with the very essence of style in the greatest symphonic repertoire. In his DNA there was an innate musicality and it was nurtured by an intelligent guide.
A brief résumé. He has held main posts at Lyon Opera (a very innovative tenure), the Hallé Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera, Deutsche Symphonie Berlin, the Bavarian Opera (Munich). And since September 2015 he is Musical Director of the Hamburg State Opera, whose Philharmonic Orchestra gives two hundred performances of opera and ballet plus thirty symphonic and chamber concerts, a tremendous amount of work.
I recall that this orchestra came here decades ago led by Aldo Ceccato and for the Mozarteum: a solid ensemble, though not as important as it was on this year´s visit. They trace their origins to as far back as 1828, and during the Twentieth Century they had illustrious conductors: Muck, E.Jochum, Keilberth, Sawallisch and G.Albrecht. Then Ceccato, and afterwards Metzmacher and for ten years before Nagano, Simone Young, the outstanding Australian lady conductress.
As it came in this tour they numbered 96 players, big enough for Strauss. They really have 130 players because their enormous yearly task necessitates some rotation of players. And with them came two admirable artists: cellist Gautier Capuçon, who with his violinist brother Renaud played a memorable Brahms Double Concerto here in one of the Argerich Festivals; and Japanese mezzosoprano Mihoko Fujimura, unknown here but very appreciated in Germany, particularly in Wagner.
Richard Strauss´ "Don Quixote" (1897) demonstrates his inexhaustible orchestral imagination, who had only one possible match in the late Nineteenth Century: Gustav Mahler. "Don Quixote" has a subtitle, "Fantastic variations on a chivalric subject". The cello is the Don and the viola is Sancho. Between the Introduction and the Finale there are ten variations, some of them with astounding orchestral effects (the sheep sound like advanced atonalism, and flying is cunningly imitated). But it is also a warm portrait of character. It needs a crack orchestra and an inspired cellist: it had both this time.
True, Capuçon was somewhat arbitrary as to note values, but his interpretation was expressive and convincing, with beautiful timbre and fine technique. Nagano and the orchestra were stalwart throughout, with perfectly chosen tempi and immaculate playing of the very difficult music, as well as intensity and sustained concentration. Naomi Seiler (viola) and Konradin Seitzer, the concertino of imposing presence and virtuoso quality, made fine contributions.
Brahms´ Symphony Nº 1 is probably the best First in history; to say that what we heard was outstanding in the myriad versions we have heard through several decades
is no exaggeration. The composer was born in Hamburg and was homaged by the players fully and excitingly. The encores were the subtle Entr´acte from Schubert´s "Rosamunde", lovingly done, and curiously with no hiatus, a fascinating movement from Ligeti´s "Concert Romanesc", as wild a piece as can be imagined, where conductor and orchestra showed that the moderns have no secrets for them.
The second programme was very coherent. Before the interval, Wagner´s Prelude to Act One and Love-Death from "Tristan and Isolde", the latter in the orchestral arrangement of the composer; and the five "Wesendonck Lieder", arranged by Felix Mottl the first four and the fifth by Wagner from the original for voice and piano. As two of them have melodies that reappear in "Tristan...", it was a good idea to programme the songs on the poems of Wagner´s muse, Mathilde Wesendonck. Nagano proved a fine Wagnerian, and Fujimura sang with powerful voice and clear understanding of the style.
Bruckner´s Sixth Symphony (1881) isn´t as long as the following ones (55 minutes); I find it more technical and less attractive than the Seventh or Eighth, but quite representative of his distinctive personality. Again Nagano and the orchestra showed conclusive professionalism, energy and power of communication. There were no encores.
For Buenos Aires Herald