Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rattle and Berliner Philharmoniker; Concert in Answer to a Finch

In the second song of the "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen," the merry finch calls out to the singer; "Wird's nicht eine schöne Welt?" Simon Rattle returned to the digital concert hall conducting a program with the Berliner Philharmoniker that was a significant effort and came across with thrilling energy. Each work on the program gave its own distinct answer to that Finch.

The program began with the Symphony No. 2 by Witold Lutosławski. Too often orchestras go into auto-pilot when they play works that require ad libitum playing. The Berliner Philharmoniker brought out beautiful detail in the succession of textures that comprise this work.

The first movement, marked "Hésitant," is built from a succession of episodes and refrains. Each refrain is scored for a trio of double reeds, and the succession if intervallic profiles in these sections was as audible and organized as the sequence of timbral colors in its schematic form. Rattle gave a quick and powerful cue for the fifth episode, which set the proper attitude for this passage scored for piano harp and celesta. These details helped shape the flow of the work.

There is a central moment close to the end of the second movement when the conductor is asked, for the first time in the symphony, to beat time in the traditional manner. The cameras missed the opportunity to showcase this moment during the five-and-a-half measures of string playing that marks the onset of this new motion, but caught the motion in its second occurrence. Rattle and the orchestra made the pulsing impact of this coordinated music feel devastating. It sounded like all possible dances happening at once.

Baritone Christian Gerhaher joined the orchestra as soloist in Mahler's "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen." The sound of this work after Lutosławski was a bittersweet re-entry into the world of the 19th century. Gerhaher sang the work with highly personal, direct and heart breaking expression. the music glowed from the heat generated earlier on the program, and seemed an unspoken undercurrent of the symphony.

After intermission, soloists Luba Orgonášová, Mihoko Fujimura, and Stuart Skelton, joined Gerhaher who returned to sing the bass solo, the wonderful Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, and organist Christian Schmitt, joined the orchestra for the Glagolitic Mass by Janáček.

Still thinking about the opening of the Lutosławski symphony, I was awaiting the connection to it made by the trumpet music that starts the Úvod. I am aware of the research that places an Intrada derived from the Exodus before the Úvod in order to create a symmetrical structure. The Intrada does not connect in the way I had hoped.

Still, the sense of symmetry within the Mass that it created was convincing, especially in the extended symphonic interlude in the Credo movement. The interaction of the clarinet trio with the cello/viola line was memorable. The extensive brass and timpani writing were played with groove. It was a celebration in bright pastels. 

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