Hungarian composer and conductor Peter Eötvös led the Berliner Philharmoniker in a program transmitted through the Digital Concert Hall that centered on the third performance of his new Cello Concerto Grosso, which was premiered by the orchestra on June 16. The concerto was jointly commissioned by the Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker, Tonhalle Zürich, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Bergen Filharmoniske Orkester and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.
The concerto is a solid 26-minute work in three movements that run together without pause. Miklós Perényi joined the orchestra as cello soloist.
Frequently playful, the opening movement begins in a conversational modality with Perényi decorating the first three notes of a D-major scale. Strong punctuation by the ensemble across a wide color spectrum accompanied each gesture from the soloist which created the impression of building a conversation.The first movement was constructed from a relatively small amount of material given how diverse the gestures sounded. Frenzied interludes alternated with jazzy gestures. But it was the sheer diversity of articulations that created energy, and the Berliner Philharmoniker is the perfect machine to make these details come across vibrantly.
The second movement opened with a gesture in two-note segments that that brought to mind the interval games in late Beethoven. This movement gave way to a central march that mixed tasty sarcasm with irreverent grooving. It ended with a lovely and rarefied dialog between solo horns and the solo cello in a texture that was not parallel to the opening of the movement, but a pleasantly surprising detour within earshot of it.
The third movement opened with a development of earlier material that broke into bubbly dance music. It ended with a series of cadenzas punctuated by brief dance interjections and ended with a sharp clap from the percussionists.
This was a well constructed concerto full of vibrant humor and clever writing. It will be a pleasure to hear this piece again as it enters the archives of the digital concert hall.
After intermission we heard the Four Russian Peasant Songs by Stravinsky in the 1954 edition that includes parts for four horns. This work was an effective palette cleanser with the pure rustic sound of the SSA choir and the wacky but charming horn lines that snake through this arrangement.
Ferruccio Furlanetto joined the orchestra as soloist in the Coronation Scene and Death Scene from Boris Godunov. They played the original Mussorgsky scoring, not the Rimsky version, and Furlanetto amazed everyone with how quickly he could capture the intensity of these moments from deep within a labyrinthine opera. He sang the death scene with a strength that could still embrace a sense of prayer, and an emotion on the very edge of tears. Furlanetto was given a thunderous ovation on each appearance after the performance.
It was also Mussorgsky that opened this event; St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain. The orchestra sounded great, particularly at the close of the movement which creates the impression of sunrise when it is played with sensitivity. The production featured several clever camera angles, one that caught both the oboe and bassoon together as they played together in octaves in d minor at the poco più sostenuto, and there was a wonderful angle on the tolling of the bell during the coda--a sound that mixed beautifully with the low flute and cello harmonics. Too many performances toll the bell without regard for the bell's context.
While each work was of interest on this program the overall sequence from one to the next lacked the insights I have come to associate with programming for the Berliner Philharmoniker. Perhaps if Eötvös had chosen the 1867 Mussorgsky version of Bare Mountain--or even the opera scene since he had the chorus--the larger harmonies of one work moving to the next might have had even more zip.