Franz Schmidt (1874-1939)

Saturday, October 7, 2023

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

Marianna Martines (1744-1812), born in Vienna, was a pupil of Joseph Haydn. Her three-movement C-major Sinfonia (flutes, oboes, horns, timpani, strings, and harpsichord continuo) opened the concert, rather good, energetic and enchanting, played crisply and fondly by the Berliners (Noah Bendix-Balgley, concertmaster) discreetly directed by Fabio Luisi (currently holding top-job positions with Dallas, Danish National, and NHK orchestras). He introduced Mozart’s A-major Piano Concerto (No.23; K488) suavely and spaciously, to which Evgeny Kissin followed suit, gently touched, lyrically graceful, articulate, intimate, finding fantasy in the cadenza (Mozart’s), depth of feeling in the slow movement (although played as a Largo and too slow, somewhat static, for even the marked Adagio) and greater expression than normal in the Finale at a moderate tempo. Overall, much that was beguiling, especially from the woodwinds, clarinets and bassoons now added. For an encore Kissin offered the ‘Rondo alla Turca’ from the K331 Sonata, playing it with the same civility and clarity as the Concerto.

Following the interval, Franz Schmidt’s richly orchestrated E-flat Second Symphony (1911-13). The rippling/trilling open-air beginning is arresting, so too the bountifully romantic melodies that come along, part of an exuberant and reflective first movement that develops passionately, sometimes furtively, and which may seem discursive but it certainly communicates especially when played with the intense glow, beauty of sound, and mastery of detail and complex counterpoint that this orchestra can muster, generously gestured by Luisi. The central movement is an ingenious and engaging set of Variations that, despite being from such a simple seed, manages to cover much fruitful and diverting ground, including Viennese charm. The Finale is a different matter, opening solemnly, woodwinds given prominence, and what seems like full-sail journeying getting underway instead becomes ruminative, although the acceleration returns and, somewhat awkwardly perhaps, turns to brassy majesty (including eight horns) to signal that this fifty-minute Symphony has arrived, here rendered resplendently.