Photo, Marco Caselli Nirmal

Friday, February 2, 2024

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

“Transfiguration in Music” was the theme of this concert, said Daniele Gatti, two of the pieces achieving that state through Death, whereas the Schoenberg refers to Richard Dehmel’s eponymous poem (see below) that culminates in human reconciliation. Originally a string sextet, the composer’s 1943 version for string orchestra was here atmospheric yet tense, a little stiff of phrase, maybe, although overall Gatti found the music’s heartbeat, scenery, journeying, emotional coming-together and in-peace resolution, using the full resources of the Berlin strings (solo and tutti) over a generous thirty-five minutes (a few more than the average), clear-sighted and without indulgence, dynamically refined, if with time suspended and shrouded in much feeling.

Following the interval the full orchestra paired Strauss and Wagner, the former’s Tod issuing sadness that life is ebbing away in a darkened room, the soul departing not without a fighting spirit if becoming subsumed by bittersweet reflections and a crossroads crisis, bit by bit accepting the inevitable. Gatti, partly through deliberate tempos, rather underplayed the emotional power this music can yield, although there was no doubting the momentous passing-over that was eventually reached or the serenity of the concluding measures. As for the Tristan bookends, the ‘Prelude’ set the scene as slow-burn passion with a portent to the tragedy that becomes reality with Isolde’s ‘Liebestod’, love only being possible through death. If the ‘Prelude’ took too much time up, it was nevertheless played with purple tones and controlled admirably by Gatti, then the ‘Liebestod’, with a flawlessly angled crescendo, glowed with transcendence, Gatti absorbed throughout and drained by the end.

Arnold Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night)
Richard Strauss Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration)
Richard Wagner Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod

Verklärte Nacht

Two people are walking through a bare, cold wood;
the Moon keeps pace with them and draws their gaze.
The Moon moves along above tall oak trees,
there is no wisp of cloud to obscure the radiance
to which the black, jagged tips reach up.
A woman’s voice speaks:

“I am carrying a child, and not by you.
I am walking here with you in a state of sin.
I have offended grievously against myself.
I despaired of happiness,
and yet I still felt a grievous longing
for life’s fullness, for a mother’s joys
and duties; and so I sinned,
and so I yielded, shuddering, my sex
to the embrace of a stranger,
and even thought myself blessed.
Now life has taken its revenge,
and I have met you, met you.”

She walks on, stumbling.
She looks up; the Moon keeps pace.
Her dark gaze drowns in light.
A man’s voice speaks:

“Do not let the child you have conceived
be a burden on your soul.
Look, how brightly the universe shines!
Splendour falls on everything around,
you are voyaging with me on a cold sea,
but there is the glow of an inner warmth
from you in me, from me in you.
That warmth will transfigure the stranger’s child,
and you bear it me, begot by me.
You have transfused me with splendour,
you have made a child of me.”

He puts an arm about her strong hips.
Their breath embraces in the air.
Two people walk on through the high, bright night. [Translated from the German]