Saturday, December 10, 2022

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

Bruckner Sevens to the left, right, and all around – only yesterday the wholesome long lines of Blomstedt,; a few months ago the concisely illuminating view of Roth,; there’s a new recording from Paavo Järvi and Tonhalle Zurich due soon on Alpha; meanwhile, I must get to grips with Ormandy’s 1930s’ Minneapolis version,; and apropos to this Berlin concert, Andris Nelsons has recorded Bruckner Seven in Leipzig for Deutsche Grammophon, which I have not heard.

In Berlin on this December night, Nelsons led a spacious and dynamic seventy-three-minute account, breathed into life on the slenderest of tremolos and the most-rounded of the cellos-and-horn melody. From there, in the first movement, there was a flexibility that somewhat lost the music’s line. Which edition? We weren’t informed. In Leipzig Nelsons used Haas, so presumably did so in Berlin yet conducted the first movement as if it was Nowak’s publication with its greater deviations of tempo, albeit with that editor’s cymbal-capped climax in the Adagio (it was also a Haas/Nowak mixture for Karajan and Celibidache), so that throughout the opener one knew where one was but not necessarily how and why, and if overall sonically impressive, the lumped-together violins (violas seated outside-right) were not always as sweet or as sonorous as might have been expected, although they cut through the heavy brass of the coda (magnificently majestic on its own terms) with ease. The slow movement (introducing Wagner tubas) fared better in terms of cohesion, Nelsons underlining the music’s solemnity and sorrow (Bruckner’s hero, Wagner, was recently deceased), even if the light-emitting Moderato episode was slightly shoe-horned in, with the climax built towards with patience and delivered with filmic splendour, following which horns and composer-inscribed tubas lamented forcefully. The Scherzo moved apace with chiselled rhythms, the Trio eloquently shaped if, with this amount of expressive largesse, more an interlude than something related, and the Finale mixed stealth and grandeur to fine effect, the ultimate coda broad and blazing.

The concert started with Schoenberg’s compact and continuous, if in four distinct sections, Piano Concerto (1942, Los Angeles). Mitsuko Uchida has championed this compelling work for a number of years (and recorded it with Boulez in Cleveland, From the teasing waltz that opens the Concerto to its craggy conclusion, this is highly organised music, yet Uchida (spectacles, score and page-turner in place) played with a certain freedom and much sentiment, and was given an intense and lucidly detailed accompaniment (very well captured in the DCH relay, the piano ‘first among equals’) in what is a complex relationship between piano and orchestra (when Emanuel Ax played the piece with the LSO some years ago, Boulez had a rehearsal “without soloist” to sort things out in readiness for the pianist) and the music itself goes through many emotions, including anger and bittersweet reflection, cadenza-like passages retaining such qualities, complementing a determined course to a goal set and arrived at. For twenty-two minutes Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto lived and breathed, always expressive and communicative, Uchida, Nelsons and the Philharmoniker players entwined in meaningful partnership.