In the first of two appearances at this year's BBC Proms, Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony performed a repeat of their programme from the Edinburgh Festival earlier this week, Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra and Sibelius's Symphony No 2 in D major. Jansons also conducted the same programme here at the Proms twelve years ago with the Oslo Philharmonic.
Although Jansons is renowned for his interpretations of this repertoire and received a rapturous welcome, I may be alone in feeling as ambivalent to the performance of the Strauss as its closing bars. Famous for its opening, and immortalised in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the tone-poem is a tribute to Nietzsche's philosophy of the same name, published in 1892. Whilst some of the transitions between episodes felt a little scrappy and disjointed, the orchestra are of sufficient professionalism and pedigree not to give a bad performance. Using their own organ rather than the RAH instrument to avoid discrepancies in pitch, the orchestra otherwise managed a satisfying performance, with fine contributions from brass and percussion and solo violin.
Following the interval, however, was a beautifully lyrical reading of Sibelius Symphony No. 2 that fully explored the range and depth of the orchestra's solo and ensemble playing. Celebrating fifty years since Sibelius' death, it is fair to say the composer's current reception owes much to the work of Mariss Jansons, who produced a recording of the complete symphonies during his twenty years with the Oslo Philharmonic.
Whilst the Symphony is in many ways still indebted to the Austro-German transition of the romantic symphony - following a four-movement scheme, a Beethovenian Scherzo and trio for the third movement and a final movement that approaches something of monumentalism - Sibelius' organicism is also very much to the fore with pastoral innocence providing a foil for constantly evolving themes. Jansons educed an empathetic and structurally transparent performance from the orchestra, gorgeously rounded tones from winds matching the deep bucolic strings. Each climax was thrilling, the scherzo playful, the finale suitably grandiose.
Two final encores, Sibelius' Valse Triste and music from Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin, served to illustrate the musicality and finesse of both orchestra and conductor.