Screenshot from broadcast

Saturday, December 17, 2022

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

This concert’s generally slow-moving content was here made varied and wonderful through superb playing and insightful conducting. The Prelude to Parsifal had a profound sense of searching, the music shimmering with promise, dynamics and blends carefully graded – a means to a spiritual end – transcendent strings, the brass glowing nobly, and woodwinds eloquently expressive. There was no doubting the music’s stage provenance – Bayreuth of course – as Christian Thielemann spaciously unfolded the introduction followed by the ‘Good Friday’ section, the latter opening with a grand gesture and continuing with a pppp hush sustained by the Berliners’ magically rapt response. There were curtain-calls for Albrecht Mayer, oboe, and Wenzel Fuchs, clarinet. The Preludes to the three Acts of Hans Pfitzner’s Palestrina (first performed in 1917, conducted by Bruno Walter, and a great opera when heard in Rafael Kubelík’s DG recording) are also spellbinding; radiant, atmospheric and transporting in I & III, with II being vigorous, louder and dramatic.

Between Wagner and the interval, Camilla Nylund featured in a flowing and expressive account of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs. Vivid word-painting was sometimes Nylund’s forte, tactfully but distinctively accompanied, singer and conductor especially at-one when the settings are at their most intimate and were here peered into by all concerned to release their fullest potential, yet avoiding sentimentality. Perhaps though the stand-out moment came at the close of the second Lied, ‘September’, when Stefan Dohr’s horn solo seemed to float mystically from afar – amazing given he was in the same room.

The concert ended with one of Schoenberg’s orchestrations of a J. S. Bach organ work (this example from 1928 premiered in Berlin by Furtwängler). A large orchestra, yes, but chamber-like in the kaleidoscope of instruments heard (tuttis are rare), so that the ear is constantly beguiled by brilliant, diverse and unexpected coloring of what is a relatively substantial piece, joyous in effect. It crowned a choice of repertoire described as “pastel-shaded” by Thielemann who conducted most of the works from memory: like Blomstedt he has the scores in front of him but doesn’t open them, all except the Schoenberg, which, in an interview, he admitted to being fascinated by.

  1. Richard Wagner Parsifal: Prelude
  2. Richard Wagner Parsifal: Good Friday Music
  3. Richard Strauss Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) Camilla Nylund soprano
  4. Hans Pfitzner Three Orchestral Preludes from Palestrina
  5. Johann Sebastian Bach Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV 552 (orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg)

Johann Sebastian Bach, orchestrated Arnold Schoenberg, Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV654, conducted by Michael Gielen. Organ, Ton Koopman.