classical cd review

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Wagner and Sibelius works

WAGNER: Tannhäuser Overture; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2

Andris Nelsons, Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s new music director, Andris Nelsons, has been in place for barely two months, and already his first CD with the orchestra is out. It’s a heavyweight disc, the Overture to Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” from the BSO’s September gala and Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 from a program last month.

These are also heavyweight performances. The “Tannhäuser” Overture is an opera in miniature, from the pilgrims’ procession to the Venusberg and back. Nelsons’s pilgrims are brooding, almost sorrowful; Tannhäuser’s Venusberg sojourn is a giddy affair, with big sighs in the strings and a very seductive clarinet. And the climax is more cataclysmic than erotic. To listen to the entire opera at this level would be exhausting; on its own terms, the interpretation just about works.


The Sibelius is also dark and deep, and bristles with nervous energy. Nelsons is scrupulous about the composer’s hairpin dynamics; at times, as at the ritenuto 25 bars into the Andante, he can seem in thrall to them. He might not have the idiomatic command of a Paavo Berglund in this symphony, but he does understand structure, and tension and release, and he plays for high stakes. The finale evolves out of the minor-key material rather than triumphing over it — and in Sibelius, evolving is always the right course. The timings here are almost identical with Colin Davis’s 1976 BSO recording, but the intensity is of a different order.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at