Saturday, March 5, 2022

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

It’s been a good week for engaging with FXR’s musicianship: first his notable Bruckner Seven recording reaches me,, and then this Stravinsky sandwich with a J. S. Bach filling came live from Berlin. That filling featured Albrecht Mayer (Philharmoniker oboe first-chair) and the d’amore “big sister” version of his chosen instrument for a Bach Concerto better known in its keyboard guise, A-major in both cases, just add an R(econstruction) to the BWV number. It was delightfully springy in the outer movements, sublime in the slow one, as the florid patterned red/black-jacketed Mayer produced a roulade of notes dressed in mellow tone, with reduced strings (founded on two basses) and a continuo section (harpsichord and what I take to be an archlute) offering buoyant and sensitive support. An encore was forthcoming, introduced by Mayer. I think he said (in German of course), while mentioning Paul McCartney, Sting, Phil Collins, and others, that he was offering an aria from Handel’s Rinaldo; it was altogether special in this arrangement and intense rendition; poignantly tearful.

Opening the evening was the Divertimento that Stravinsky made from his Tchaikovsky-sourced music for the ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, given an expressive, lucid and energetic – dancing-on-point – reading, drily witty. There was no doubting a storyline is enshrined within the score, the Berliners responding to the baton-less Roth with playing of precision, unanimity, dynamism and relish, syncopations, pirouettes and laconic asides perfectly placed; plenty of romance, too (think Sleeping Beauty) with beguiling clarinet and cello solos. Following the interval, the BP at full strength (Mayer returned to his woodwind colleagues), it was Petrushka, in the original 1911 version (a larger orchestra than in the ‘47 revision), a bustling, vivid, incident-packed, highly characterised account that married outdoor and secluded episodes seamlessly bonded by playing of outrageous brilliance and collegiate togetherness. From fun at the fairground to an eerie envoi was here a natural progression.

Let the final words be François-Xavier Roth’s (interval interview): “my heart is with the Ukrainian people.”