LEBRECHT LISTENS Mariss Jansons, We Miss you

Mariss Jansons (Photo courtesy of BR Classic)
Mariss Jansons (Photo courtesy of BR Classic)

Pärt, Poulenc, Stravinsky (BR Classic)

★★★★ ☆

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Just how much we miss Mariss Jansons is a manifesto in this Munich concert of three sacred works. Jansons, who died in November 2019, aged 76, was not principally noted for religiosity or choral masterpieces, but his shaping of this triptych is so masterful that one can hardly imagine them presented with greater coherence or sincerity.

Arvo Pärt’s Berlin Mass, composed in 1990 for the city’s reunification, is a five-part setting of the Roman Catholic service in an idiom that is, at once, respectful of traditional sonority and, at the same time, pushing gently to a minimal modernism that is the composer’s trademark. The choral writing has an authenticity that would not have shamed Gregorio Allegri.

Francis Poulenc wrote his Stabat Mater while mourning a friend in 1950. It is avowedly devout yet sensuous and lyrical, almost a contradiction in human impulses. I keep thinking: only Poulenc could have pulled this off. In certain recognizable ways, the oratorio acts a sketchbook for his opera, Dialogue of the Carmeliteswhich occupied him for the rest of the decade.

Igor Stravinsky was religious in a very Russian sense, which is to say he was obsessed more with ritual than with ethics, meaning and morality. His Symphony of Psalms is the summit of his neoclassical 1930s, composed ‘in a mood of religious and musical exuberance’. The textures, including a harp, two pianos and timpani, are almost impossible to balance for most conductors, though not for Jansons, whose interpretation is both passionate and precise, while also light and translucent (the soaring soprano is Genia Kühmeier).

This is altogether an outstanding record of the conductor’s art, in music that does not consistently justify such commitment. Jansons was one of the greats. Happily, Bavarian Radio have more of his big nights coming out of their archives.

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Latest posts by Norman Lebrecht (see all)
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