Mariss Jansons, a sculptor of sounds
I can’t, and I don’t wish to write a standard obituary for Mariss Jansons. His music has affected me so deeply on many different levels that an impersonal obituary would be out of the question. After all, one can simply visit his Wikipedia entry to find out more about him: how he grew up in a musical family, studied conducting and became a Karajan protégé (in fact, Karajan had expressed his wish to have Jansons as his assistant with the Berlin Philharmonic). In the end, he was considered by many to be the greatest living conductor of our times. “He’s the best of all of us!” Rattle said in an interview in Die Welt (2nd April, 2015)
On a personal level, Mariss Jansons has made me a better person in two ways.
First, there is the essence of pure music-making. Jansons sculpted the sound in a way that, to me, was reminiscent of the great Herbert von Karajan. In 2018 I wrote to BR Klassik, the record label, to ask a few questions about future Jansons releases. There, I also expressed my opinion that the Jansons/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra collaboration is the closest we have got to the Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic partnership — mainly in terms of artistic quality and because of the similarly opulent textures Jansons draws from the orchestra. The end result is a visionary, insightful interpretation of the musical works, which has greatly transformed my appreciation for them.
Second, through discussions about Jansons on online forums and Facebook groups, I became friends with some outstanding people who share the same enthusiasm for the maestro. In turn, this has led to long-lasting friendships full of constructive debates on classical music.
One thing I regret, though, is that I never wrote to him or to BR Klassik (as I had been planning) to suggest that he records the Bruckner 9 with one of the completed finales. Why Bruckner? Because I find his recording of the Bruckner 8th and that of the 9th, both with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (again on the BR Klassik label), to be monumental.
Still, the legacy he has left behind is great, and I am sure more releases will follow. It is difficult to choose my favourite recordings because most of his output, especially with the Oslo Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, is outstanding. I’ve already mentioned his Bruckner, but among his latest releases please allow me to also recommend his very heartfelt reading of Mahler’s 9th, a moving Mahler 3rd and a truly spectacular Alpensinfonie. And a Mahler 5th which I think is the best we’ve had since Barbirolli. Of course, the fact that I refer to the late-romantic repertoire doesn’t mean he didn’t excel in other composers. His Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart receive a rare humane treatment without all the flashy effects that are sometimes the trend (a few HIP recordings come to mind).
The sound he conjured from the orchestra was special indeed: rich, lush strings, velvety brass and characterful, earthy winds — all of which blended perfectly together, creating a musical aura, an ambience that I could liken to the rays of sunlight slowly emerging at the dawn of a misty morning. Jansons was a sculptor of sounds, as I like to call him.
We are indebted to Mariss Jansons for the uniqueness of his music-making. So insightful and profound were his readings that, for many of us, the effect was akin to hearing even the most familiar pieces for the first time. I will never forget my anticipation when a new Jansons release was announced — such was the level of his artistry.
We are lucky to have the technology to listen to recordings of Furtwängler, Karajan, Giulini and Bernstein and, now, to Jansons. The names I have just mentioned are not random because Jansons deserves to be amongst them and this is how he will be remembered for generations to come: for moulding the musical phrases in his distinctive way and reaching to the very core of the music. But mainly, for making us better persons in this spiritual journey of cosmic dimensions that great art, under such ideal circumstances, can guide us through.
Featured image source: Alchetron