Jörg Widmann (born 1973) [Marco Borggreve, photo]

Saturday, January 20, 2024

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

Daniel Harding returned to Bruckner Four having conducted the Berliners in it during 2022, including at the BBC Proms, https://www.colinscolumn.com/bbc-proms-2022-prom-65-berliner-philharmoniker-daniel-harding-conducts-anton-bruckners-fourth-symphony-romantic-and-tabea-zimmermann-plays-alfred-schnittkes-viola-concerto/, albeit standing in for Kirill Petrenko, unable to undertake the whole tour due to an injury, thus his Shostakovich became Harding’s Bruckner. This account (ditto the previous two this week) carried a dedication to Claudio Abbado (one of Harding’s mentors) who died ten years ago on this date. It was a shapely and flexible reading, getting off to a close-to-Nature start, the lightest and quietest of string tremolos supporting Stefan Dohr’s impeccably crafted horn solo. This was the ‘standard’ 1878/80 score, but whether edited by Benjamin M. Korsvedt, as before, I cannot say. Harding exploited a wide dynamic range without crossing into crudity and the ppp moments genuinely belonged, which wasn’t always the case with climaxes, however sonorous. The slow movement dragged, a long way from Andante quasi allegretto, beautifully played though; an exciting charge through the Scherzo followed, details vivid, offset by a languorous Trio. For the Finale, which Robert Simpson advocated should be treated as Adagio – Celibidache obliged, especially in his later years – found Harding accommodating a spacious tramp, although a sudden increase in speed at two points jarred, and what can be episodes of awe weren’t quite revealed. Nevertheless such a quality was evident in the ultimate coda, a spacious climb to the top of a mountain and the view that goes with it, which cued some immediate and indiscriminate clapping from a few while the rest of the audience held back for several seconds of silence.

Jörg Widmann’s twenty-five-minute Viola Concerto opened the concert. Composed for Antoine Tamestit, the work is as much visual as aural, the soloist required to walk around and play from different spots on the platform following a knock-on-wood ‘hidden’ entrance issuing pizzicato entreaties to the pianist, the two harpists and the celesta player. In every sense, it’s a mobile piece, dramatic, confrontational between orchestra and viola, wacky (maybe too much for its own good), with a kaleidoscope of sounds (such as guttural bass and contrabass clarinets, trombone blasts), yet for all the theatre and imagination, it might be heard as lacking substance (for the ears) if not electricity, although there is expressive beauty towards the end, which seems to be where the music was heading if in a roundabout way; suddenly there is a heart and a soul. Brilliant, uninhibited performance.