As for Christian Thielemann's performance with the London Symphony Orchestra on Thursday - well, if I forget it as soon as I've finished writing this review, it won't be a moment too soon. The whole thing was mannered, sententious and hollow: all surface and no substance - a symphonic sausage roll with no sausage. As with Gergiev, Thielemann's approach could be labelled traditionalist, but in the worst sense. Thielemann pulled the tempo about in the first movement and the slower finale variations in a way that superficially recalled Furtwangler. But where Furtwangler would have conveyed the impression of spontaneity, Thielemann was grimly predictable. As the first movement ground towards its dissonant central climax (not quite central here: Thielemann imperiously ignored Beethoven's first section repeat), one braced oneself for the inevitable gear-change, the strings trudging slowly then gradually, exhaustedly returning to tempo - the sort of thing that was apparently common currency in pre-war Eroicas. It came, as expected - but why? This was pure gesture, no sense of inner raison d'etre.
Let's not blame the LSO. They gave every indication of trying to realise Thielemann's ideas with conviction, as they did in the single item in the first half: Strauss's Metamorphosen. The subtitle of this work is "Study for 23 solo strings" but, as far as I could tell, Thielemann doubled every string line throughout the piece. There may be a case for doubling some passages if the piece has to be played in a large concert hall. But others plainly demand the subtle expressive intensity that only a solo instrumental voice can give. If Thielemann's Metamorphosen gained something in tone-weight, it lost far more in immediacy and intimacy; and, almost inevitably, there were intonation problems.
As a conception, it was a strange experience: intermittently impressive, but a lot of it low key, quiet passages wanly sentimental or simply impassive. Having made much of the final climax, Thielemann turned the elegiac coda into a protracted Mahlerian leave-taking - the kind of thing Strauss himself is said to have found unpalatable in Mahler's symphonies. Would Strauss have been swayed by this? I doubt it.Reuse content