An analysed page from Erwartung

Saturday, April 20, 2024

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

Music director of San Francisco Opera, this was Eun Sun Kim’s debut week with the Berliner Philharmoniker, with contrasting masterworks: from 1909 Schoenberg’s modernist (even now), advanced, forward-looking Erwartung (‘Expectation’, a one-act Monodrama), and, from nearly thirty years later, Rachmaninov’s final Symphony, powerful and passionate, yet also nostalgic, regretful and haunted. This great piece has been with Eun Sun Kim on her recent debuts in Detroit and New York (maybe elsewhere). It’s music she appreciates on an emotional level as well as a symphonic one, and the Berliners relished with virtuosity Rachmaninov’s sophisticated scoring (originally intended for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Stokowski). She was persuasively flexible with the first movement’s second subject, finding romance while making it a part of the whole, and she repeated the exposition, then charting to anguished climaxes with surety, the lingering envoi (the bittersweet mood spoiled by disruptive clapping) setting up nicely the fond remembrances of the slow movement, offset by the fast and brilliant middle section, its particulars closely observed by Kim; and, following further audience interruption, she was articulate with the Finale, unifying its episodes without restricting them, the fugue belonging, and the coda energised if without being a frenzy (that state lay in wait for the Symphonic Dances. the composer’s next and final opus).

Erwartung (not performed until 1924, in Prague, conducted by Zemlinsky) occupied part one, ominous from the off, an active large orchestra relaying numerous descriptions and circumstances, with much that is expressive (woodwind and violin solos), complementing the singer, sometimes with urgency, sometimes with sympathy – packed with incident, played pristinely, the players alive to the ebb and flow that Kim found amidst the complexity – to Marie Pappenheim’s German text (English synopsis below) sung fearlessly by Ausrine Stundyte, rising in anxiety as the Woman begins to fear the worst. The performance held its own as a dramatic piece of music – living, breathing, human – and made for thirty compelling minutes, aided by exemplary DCH engineering – spot-on balance between singer and orchestra with the latter’s details and nuances unfailingly lucid.

Erwartung synopsis

“Time: Night; Place: A forest

“A woman is in an apprehensive state as she searches for her lover. In the darkness, she comes across what she first thinks is a body, but then realises is a tree-trunk. She is frightened and becomes more anxious as she cannot find the man she is looking for. She then finds a dead body, and sees that it is her lover. She calls out for assistance, but there is no response. She tries to revive him, and addresses him as if he were still alive, angrily charging him with being unfaithful to her. She then asks herself what she is to do with her life, as her lover is now dead. Finally, she wanders off alone into the night.”