Andrew Norman (born 1979)

Friday, November 4, 2022

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

Music by Grand Rapids-born Andrew Norman opened this latest DCH webcast. Unstuck (2008) owes to three words found in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five, “unstuck in time”. Norman’s ten-minute response is an energetic, incident-packed piece for large orchestra, high in velocity, music that hurtles, with the occasional lyrical aside that develops into a wasteland of sound stimulated by restless eddies of timbre before supersonic speed again dominates, intense expression peeking through, the two states alternating before Unstuck fades to the fragile tones of three cellos. Kirill Petrenko, with an outsize printed score in front of him occupying, and dwarfing, his stand, received a virtuoso Philharmoniker response.

Following such tutti complexity and percussive onslaught, the Mozart, the first of his Violin Concertos, came across as chamber music, given an outing of camaraderie by members of the orchestra (strings, pairs of oboes and horns), light and elegant playing under Petrenko’s direction, supporting their First Concertmaster, Noah Bendix-Balgley, who gave a stylish and communicative account of the solo part, especially lovely in the blissful slow movement, with brilliance, poise and spot-on intonation in the outer ones, and his own cadenzas were admirably appropriate. If this Concerto needed putting on the map in relation to Mozart’s subsequent fiddle music, this was the performance to do just that. As an encore Bendix-Balgley played the final movement from Hindemith’s Sonata Opus 31/2 (1924, written on a train journey), the inventive ‘Fünf Variationen über das Lied „Komm, lieber Mai“ v. Mozart’, cleverly ended, rendered with distinction.

Korngold (1897-1957) completed his only Symphony in 1952 following his time scoring Hollywood movies. Its premiere (Vienna 1954) was a radio broadcast, as were later performances, its debut concert appearance not being until 1972 conducted by Rudolf Kempe who also recorded the work. Korngold’s Symphony is an expansive, four-movement opus of individuality, opening spikily, a clarinet (Wenzel Fuchs) to the fore, music that becomes lush and descriptive, colourful. Petrenko vividly brought out the first movement’s contrasts of mood and tempo, relishing drama and tender flute-led romance, played with wide-screen HD panache, symphonic credentials holding their own. The light-emitting Scherzo, with correspondences to William Walton’s music, dazzled, the heroic horns (led by Stefan Dohr) suggesting a swashbuckling Errol Flynn had made an appearance, and which folds into a shadowy Trio. Petrenko waited awhile before starting the heartfelt Adagio – more Franz Schmidt than the oft-cited Bruckner – eloquent, confidential music given here with spaciousness, sensitivity and growing intensity. The silver-tinted Finale, fleet and optimistic, not a cloud in the sky, is perhaps the weakest music of the Symphony, and too short in context, if irresistible when given this degree of joie de vivre, to end a marvellous fifty-minute rendition, the Philharmoniker in vibrant form, so too the DCH team in terms of sound and camerawork.