Saturday, January 8, 2022

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

A week ago Daniel Barenboim was in Vienna to welcome the New Year, Now he was in Berlin for the first of two Verdi programmes (the Messa da Requiem is scheduled for live-broadcast on March 12).

Opening with the Overture to Les Vêpres siciliennes, Barenboim and the Berliners found the music’s dramatic potency, intense expression and theatrical panache, if a bit held-back in the (should be pulsating) coda. Verdi’s sole String Quartet (in E-minor, written as a recreation while he was supervising a production of Aida) works well with a string orchestra (as transcribed by Toscanini?) – for which player-numbers were a little reduced, founded on four basses – and if not the greatest music Verdi wrote (far from it in fact, and of little importance said the composer) it has its attractions, if somewhat unmemorable, for Verdian fingerprints are few. Plenty of light, shade and dynamism in the performance, if not always sounding convinced, the dashing Prestissimo third movement with its serenade-like Trio coming off best.

The late flowerings that are the Quattro pezzi sacri open with the first of two a cappella numbers, the plaintive ‘Ave Maria’, beautifully sung by Rundfunkchor Berlin, with greater intensity and contrasts, and the orchestra, then coming together for the ‘Stabat Mater’. The ‘Laudi alla Vergine Maria’ (female voices unaccompanied) acts as a devotional and ethereal staging post between the heavier settings, ending with the ‘Te Deum’ and its Plainchant likeness, eruptive fortissimos, brassy interjections, crunchy/exploratory harmonies, heavenly entreaties, and a few envoi bars for a soprano. To the ear, all was fine, impressive; to the eye, Barenboim was score-reading a little too much, directing minimally, and seemed not always focussed. Of course, listening must be the final arbiter.

Liubov Medvedeva soprano

Rundfunkchor Berlin

As Berlin postscripts, the links below are to 1946 (when Menuhin met Celibidache for Brahms) and to the December just gone: Barenboim recently expressed his admiration for, and closeness to, Zubin Mehta; the latter’s Mahler Three continues to resonate in my mind.

Yehudi Menuhin & Sergiu Celibidache rehearse Brahms’s Violin Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic; 1946. [Short if quaint film.]

Berliner Philharmoniker – Zubin Mehta conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony, with Okka von der Damerau [live Digital Concert Hall webcast]