Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013)

Saturday, January 13, 2024

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

All-round concert/broadcast excellence – performance, picture, sound – with music that doesn’t get out as often as it might. Dutilleux’s debut Symphony (1951, its Paris premiere conducted by Roger Désormière) is Classically proportioned in four compact movements – opening with a Passacaglia, ending with Variations – the composer avoiding a celebratory conclusion, the score ending quietly, satisfied. The opening movement traces mysterious/fragile to big-band-jazzy/sonorous, the music opening out with twinkles in the eye, diverting repartee and also anticipating the quick-wit of the spectral Scherzo – of dynamism, shapes and shades, crescendos and distances, followed by a quietly wafting yet rapturous slow movement, and a Finale, tightly organised yet freely flying, that confirms the arrival of an inventive and distinctive composer, done proud by the Berliners (the half-hour work new to the orchestra this week) and its repertoire-expanding conductor.

Kirill Petrenko then conducted Bartók’s score for The Wooden Prince, a “pantomime ballet”, completed in 1916, story-telling music with an opening that might be heard to correspond with how Das Rheingold begins (if more about sunshine dawning a new day than watery shenanigans) and goes on to vividly describe characters, emotions and situations almost like a film soundtrack, through a fund of ear-catching motifs and a descriptive range from intimate to large-orchestra brazen via seemingly comedic intentions and certainly dramatic consequences, colourfully orchestrated, including a trio of sultry saxophones, the continuous fifty minutes sustained by playing of pictorial brilliance and collective intensity, conducted with relish by Petrenko.

In terms of DCH broadcasts, the Berliners’ year ended with Wagner, and this new one started refreshingly with relatively rare Dutilleux and Bartók; in physical terms, expect a raft of regular Rachmaninov.