Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013)

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

The Blacher (1947) is based on Paganini’s Twenty-Fourth Caprice for violin (what else!) beginning with a few bars of that piece as writ, played by the concertmaster, cueing witty, deft, spiky and other always-inventive and -engaging commentaries, sometimes reminding of Hindemith, and tailored well to fit fifteen minutes, the orchestration consistently ear-catching in its variety (without percussion save for timpani), the Berliners in virtuoso form, and the final straight was scintillating.

Until this week’s run of programmes, the Philharmoniker has never included Barber’s Violin Concerto in a concert (its first public performance, following hiatuses and a private try-out, was in February 1941, Albert Spalding with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy). Joshua Bell and Alan Gilbert gave an expansive account of the first two movements relishing the music’s romance and soulfulness, also intimacy, layering their way to impassioned climaxes, richly delivered. If there was a sameness of tempo between them, then Jonathan Kelly’s eloquent oboe solo to open the second was also a masterclass of eloquence, and anyway the brief Finale, marked Presto, found Bell athletic yet poised (in top form throughout regarding intonation, colour, dynamics and inflections) his partners vividly projecting. For an extra, Bell offered ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess, with Nikolaus Resa as distant pianist (he was needed for the Concerto); sultry in this rendition, if a little too violinistic in this transcription.

The ‘Double’ of Dutilleux’s Second Symphony (1959, written for the Boston Symphony and Charles Munch, and also a first this week for the BP) refers to there being a separate group of twelve players arranged in a semicircle between the conductor and the full orchestra – string quartet, three woodwinds, two brass, timpani, celesta and harpsichord. Music this good deserves greater exposure – it could be that London (my base) has not had a concert outing since Previn and the RPO in the late-1980s, in the company of Vaughan Williams’s A London Symphony – the Dutilleux being a fastidious score of logic and refinement, appealing invention interweaving between the chamber group and the large forces, ravishing, agile and powerful music, suspenseful and subtle of timbre in the slow middle movement, fiery and variegated in the Finale, of rhythmic panache, transfiguring to a celestial ending. Gilbert secured a notable and committed performance, compelling attention.

Boris Blacher Variations for Orchestra on a Theme by Niccolò Paganini, op. 26

Samuel Barber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, op. 14

Henri Dutilleux Symphony No. 2 “Le Double”