Saturday, 15 September 2012

Christian Thielemann, Fortschrittliche & Sleeper Agent

Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony was about as commanding a performance of the work as one is likely to hear nowadays. Possessed of synthesizing power from the outset, the first movement’s three expositional themes unfolded with great lucidity and showed Bruckner as a composer of long but efficient paragraphs (indeed, measuring the movement’s proportions as he did, Thielemann showed precisely how their length is ideal). If form in Bruckner was ever a matter of material emerging from nothing and knitting together organically, Thielemann summoned the illusion of it here. The moment-by-moment care to detail and phrasing for which he is well known was also responded to strongly – the fussiness of the Wagner thankfully gone – and the expressive surface was perhaps all the more convincing for having the backdrop of a thoroughly conceived span, relieving the need to contrive urgency or force import onto any one event. Thielemann’s chief virtue to the Viennese may be the old-fashioned sound he draws from the orchestras he conducts (nearly exclusively German and Austrian grandes dames), but here there was no latching of it on to Brucknerian style and indeed no place for unnecessary grandeur: the enormous dominant pile-up which prefigures the third theme, typically a magnet for bombast, was shown to be a prolongation which, however unconventionally, does resolve – so much for Bruckner’s non sequiturs – and here achieved a seamless transition; while the weight of the very end was thrown not onto Wagner’s Rhine bursting its banks in E major but onto a wrenching recapitulation.

See more of my Grafenegg review of the Staatskapelle Dresden here.* On the heels of this and my Parsifal observations, which I admit must read weirdly in places, I have this strange thesis to share: Christian Thielemann, alleged defender of all that is echt und traditionsgebunden und gottverdammt Deutsch, is at his most scintillating when he’s being... a crypto-modernist.

With conducting this dialectical there can only be one explanation. The Austrian Communists were until as recently as the 1990s the richest political party in the land, thanks to hundreds of millions – euros, not schillings – smuggled over the East German border by a musicologist (a tale for another day). After much legal wrangling following the fall of the Berlin Wall they were forced to repatriate the money, though it is reckoned there’s still some cash stashed away, which we can only speculate is funding the kind of covert warfare the Austrian party knows best – cultural. The strategy is an oldie but a goodie, and involves Manchurian conductors who will ingratiate themselves with ultra-conservative audiences, priming them for a coup d’opéra in which they won’t even recognize their willing complicity. Stage 1, the brainwashing of Agent Thielemann and select critics, is nearing completion, while the Austrians, playing true to form in their susceptibility to charismatic German leaders, have required barely any external stimulus in their Stage 2 psychological programming – the hysteria which greeted Thielemann’s Vienna Ring made his Bayreuth ovations look positively flaccid. Conditioning is set to continue at the Staatsoper in 2014, when Thielemann will unleash his most radical interpretation to date: an Ariadne auf Naxos as vicious and nihilistic as Wozzeck. The strategy will pay its final devastating dividend six years later, when Dominique Meyer bows to the cult of personality and engages a fully activated Thielenator to conduct Intolleranza 2020 and Wir erreichen die stinkende Donau, a new Olga Neuwirth opera set to Elfriede Jelinek’s most trenchant libretto yet. Certain communist operatives fear it might be too much even for mass hypnosis and so the contingency mechanism of a Sinkovicz trigger may well have to be deployed (the Thielenator promising to Die Presse that everything will sound ‘really romantic and German’). Duly placated, the uncritical hordes will rise to their feet, unwittingly greenlighting Wolfgang Rihm’s new Parsifucked am Ostersonntag to replace all Eastertide performances of Wagner’s opera, and the new era of permanent operatic revolution will begin.

Be on your (van)guard folks, Thielemann has gone red and it ain’t Dutchmen he’s seeing.  

*On a more serious note, there can be little doubt that the Nowak edition was used, as I suggest in the review; the orchestration corresponded in every respect. By all means use Haas, but to credit his edition while performing another risks misinterpretation and ought to have been clarified at some point during the tour (disentangling Haas the editor from Haas the Nazi sympathizer is a matter of Bruckner scholarship still fraught with unresolved questions). A Viennese Bruckner colleague commented ‘and this happened mit dem Thielemann!?’ which I imagine is not the kind of conclusion the Staatskapelle would wish people to jump to, so sort out your misprints, Dresden people!

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