Screenshot from broadcast

Saturday, January 21, 2023

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

The opening Mother Goose and closing Miraculous Mandarin were given in their Suite forms, Ravel’s five movements tenderly realised – delicate, veiled, secretive, the composer’s pastel-colour chart subtly explored – with rapture saved, via the agility of ‘Laideronnette, impératrice des Pagodes’, for ‘Le jardin féerique’, which dug deep and savouring into its soulful beauty with Celibidachian breadth. How different the urban uproar and sleazy shenanigans of the Bartók, a controversial and censored Pantomime (sic) in its day, involving prostitution, mugging and murder, for which Esa-Pekka Salonen unleashed the Berliners’ savagery, a charged and toxic atmosphere created (odd trombone phrasing though during the opening intricacies). Whether seduction with menace or in the concluding chase, this was a graphic reading of a stunning score.

Preceding the Bartók were the four movements Ravel orchestrated of the six for piano that comprise his Couperin confection – written in memory of friends lost during World War One – brought off with sensitivity and distinguished by Jonathan Kelly’s superb oboe contributions, complemented by fine arabesques from woodwind colleagues, crisply Baroque overall, and before the interval was the recently unveiled Sinfonia concertante by Salonen himself,, music that seems to waft in from another planet – leisurely, cool – the four-manual organ (front of stage to the composer-conductor’s right) integrated into the full orchestra, itself variegated, but soon cutting loose with filmic purpose, the organ responding as if from afar, cueing the rarefied ‘Variations and Dirge’ section, austere if ear-catching and developing climactic sonority, the organ’s riposte being solemn and subdued, added by Salonen on the recent death of his mother. The gawky rhythms of ‘Ghost Montage’, including the borrowing of a jaunty (or made so) number by Pérotin (circa 1160-1230), complete this thirty-five-minute attractive opus (longer than expected) with a full-sail pointing to the finishing post if becoming a final dissolve. Olivier Latry gave a no-doubt excellent account of the organ part, his feet sometimes as active on the pedals as his hands were on the keyboards. Amid the audience’s cheers I believe there was a lone booing dissenter.

For the Ravel pieces Salonen was baton-less, with stick in hand for the others.

Maurice Ravel Ma Mère l’Oye
Esa-Pekka Salonen Sinfonia concertante for Organ and Orchestra (German premiere)
Maurice Ravel Le Tombeau de Couperin
Béla Bartók The Miraculous Mandarin