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Johan Reuter
08 Feb 2017

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmoniker

In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmonike

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Johan Reuter


When you walk up one of the stairs to the Main Hall of the Musikverein, a bust of Clara Schumann stares at you. Especially for tonight’s performance of Detlev Glanert’s orchestration of Brahms’s Four Serious Songs that he wrote after the death of his one great love, her face glowed with a special aura. Johan Reuter gave it his all as he sang the dour and depressing four songs. But it was Semyon Bychkov’s in-depth and lush interpretation of Mahler’s First Symphony that brought out the distinct sound of the Wiener Philharmoniker. The contrast of sorrow and hope could not have been more heavy and uplifting.

Johan Reuter’s bass voice carries the gloom and ashen mood of Brahms’s Four Serious Songs. He brought all the anguish of lost love that Johannes must have felt for Clara. Brahms’s choices of four biblical texts didn’t give positive mood any much of an option. It truly was a farewell to love and beauty, perhaps even a farewell to hope.Reuter handsomely bellowed through the sorrowful words, as Glanert’s orchestration included charming interludes of suitable modern dissonances entwined within Brahms’ melodies.

Clara_Wieck_Andreas_Staub.pngClara Schumann (née Wieck) by Andreas Staub [Source: Wikipedia]

The atmosphere in the Musikverein was stifling in sorrow. People applauded, but many others sat subdued, some tired, others downtrodden. Bychkov achieved the effect Glanert and Brahms wish to achieve in this ode to the passing of Clara Schumann. So when Mahler’s First Symphony began after the intermission, the promise of hope and joy of life was the perfect antidote to the dour procession before.

Indeed, Bychkov blew me away with the Viennese’s verve during the entire symphony. And truly, I had never experienced the Wiener Philharmoniker perform this rich and conjoined. All the section flowed into each other, each layer transparently on top of the other, leading to the comforting glow of cinderwood on a hearth. The strings had a texture that emanated a gorgeous red, wooden glow. I had never heard such sound before.

Bychkov certainly took his time, elongating with full effect the lush passages with each section during the opening movement of Mahler’s “Creation of the Earth”. The oboe blissfully ascending ever so fragile above the orchestra and letting its timbre radiate over the cohesive sound from the musicians. Truly an awakening.

The Scherzo with its catchy dances made for some fabulous momentum that swept me off my feet. And during the Frères Jacques passages, although at several moments the momentum did sag, Bychkov knew how to consistently distinguish the different sections, while keeping them into one flowing tempo. It was enchanting.

The Finale proved a true tempest and awoke Austrian passion as was clear with the thunderous applause following the performance. People ceaselessly clapped. After all the musicians had left, Bychkov returned to accept the the continuing applause from the audience that truly adored this noble Titan Conductor.

I rarely heard so much lush detail in a Mahler Symphony. It certainly belongs to one of my best Mahler experiences, and it was perfectly programmed against Brahms’s sad farewell to life. It seemed like a perfect celebration to remember 2016, and entering due to Mahler’s “Birth of the World” into 2017 with a newly determined hope. When I walked down back the stairs, I turned my head back to glance at Clara’s bust. It almost seemed she was smiling.

David Pinedo

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