Saturday, October 9, 2021

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

Gustavo Gimeno – music director of the Luxembourg Philharmonic and the Toronto Symphony – is making his Berlin Philharmonic debut this week. He started with Ligeti’s Concert Romȃnesc, an early work, 1951, based with affection on Romanian folk melodies, which, like Bartók, he went round recording at source – sentimental, scintillating – music with perspectives (far-away horn calls), ending with a fiery Presto perpetuum mobile fourth movement, which demands and received a virtuoso response to Ligeti’s concerto-like writing. (Some of the tunes that Ligeti used are familiar from Enescu’s pair of Opus 11 Rhapsodies, the First of them here:

Following the interval, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, with concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley in rapturous form for the ‘once upon a time, Sultan please listen’ violin solos (he’d also been busy during the Ligeti). Gimeno led a colourful unindulged account that vividly painted seascapes, landscapes and human interest, the music left to be its familiar storytelling self, details and dynamics catered for, and I had the impression that solos, from woodwinds in particular, were as much the preserve of the individual players than as scripted by Gimeno. Another novelty was his running the four movements one to another: not unusual for i-ii and iii-iv, so there was the interesting juxtaposition of the ending-loud ‘Kalandar Prince’ with the stealing-in ‘Young Prince and Young Princess’, the latter tenderly flowing. ‘Festival at Baghdad’ was a lively affair, nimbly executed.

The Concerto centrepiece was Prokofiev’s Second for Violin, which found Augustin Hadelich (also his Berlin debut this week) stressing the piece’s lyricism while ensuring that the first-movement’s volatility and edge didn’t go unattended, as mercurial as the music, and always tactilely accompanied. Especially appealing was the spacious approach to the slow movement, con amore, gentle, wistful; and the Finale (including castanets) was suitably gawky, accelerating to the finishing post and a unanimous finish. Hadelich’s jazzy syncopated encore was Louisiana Blues Strut by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.

DCH sound and picture were typically excellent, if, on this occasion, not quite synchronised.