Janowski’s Bruckner, Wagner provide fitting tribute to López-Cobos

Marek Janowski
Cincinnati Business Courier

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra opened its concert on Friday night with a somber moment of silence for maestroJesús López-Cobos. The music director emeritus, who led the ensemble for 15 years from 1986 to 2001, died of cancer Friday morning in Berlin at age 78.

The program of Wagner and Bruckner that was led by Polish-born conductor Marek Janowski on Friday evening was fitting, for López-Cobos is remembered particularly for that repertoire. He recorded Richard Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from “Tristan und Isolde,” which was played in the first half. And Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 formed the second half of the program, a work that López-Cobos recorded with the CSO in 2001 (the 1874 version).

Janowski, who was making his CSO debut, delivered distinguished, rewarding performances of this music. Now 79, he led the entire program – including Wagner’s lovely “Siegfried Idyll” – entirely from memory. 

Janowski is most revered for his interpretations of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” as well as for his cycle of Bruckner’s symphonies, the latter with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande for Pentatone.

Bruckner’s hour-long Symphony No. 4, “Romantic” evokes nature sounds, Austrian folk music and hunting horns throughout a sprawling, majestic journey. The composer struggled with its finale, and consequently there are four versions of this symphony. Janowski led the one most often played, from 1880.

It calls for immense orchestral forces. For this all-German program, it was interesting to see the orchestra’s configuration -- which changes weekly as the ensemble adjusts to the new acoustics of the just-renovated hall. For this concert, Janowski had all violins on the left, with the basses and cellos to the right. The violas sat on the outside.

This was a masterful reading, at once profound and brilliant, peppered with stirring brass fanfares. Janowski’s pacing was unhurried, and he moved little as he conducted. Yet every gesture was meaningful, and he lavished care on every phrase.
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