Márton Illés (born 1975)

Saturday, September 16, 2023

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

“A concert full of orchestral force: Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Gesangsszene from Sodom and Gomorrah – composed in 1962/63 under the shadow of the arms race between the superpowers – outlines a vision of the end of the world. Kirill Petrenko presents the powerful work with baritone Christian Gerhaher. Also dramatic are Iannis Xenakis’s Jonchaies and György Kurtág’s Stele. The world premiere of a new work by Márton Illés will be heard as well.” [Berliner Philharmoniker]

Whatever attraction the Enescu Festival was offering at the same time as this Berlin/DCH webcast (which for the record was Tugan Sokhiev once again conducting the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, this time in Mahler One, with Bertrand Chamayou in Liszt PC1), or anything else the Internet might have offered, nothing was going to trump this wildly adventurous and irresistible programme that Kirill Petrenko had thoughtfully curated:

Iannis Xenakis Jonchaies for large orchestra

Márton Illés Lég-szín-tér – commissioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation, funded by the Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung (premiere)

Karl Amadeus Hartmann Gesangsszene for baritone and orchestra on a text from Sodom and Gomorrah by Jean Giraudoux (Christian Gerhaher, baritone)

György Kurtág Stele for large orchestra, op. 33

The Xenakis, as conducted by Martyn Brabbins at last year’s Proms, made a huge impression, http://www.colinscolumn.com/bbc-proms-2022-prom-20-martyn-brabbins-conducts-birtwistle-tom-borrow-plays-ravels-g-major-piano-concerto-live-bbc/, and did so again from Berlin. Scored for 109 players (many independent parts), Jonchaies is a stunner, running a gamut of timbres, expressions, dynamics and rhythms, thrillingly pounding its way into one’s consciousness if never gratuitously for there is direction and diversity present which disabuses any such charge in music alive with much incident, sometimes onomatopoeic; sophisticated notation that is primeval in effect for seventeen enthralling minutes as huge waves of sound are eventually pared down to a pair of piccolos.

Of similar length, Márton Illés’s new work was premiered two evenings ago. This third performance introduced an active score of dazzling detail (including from an accordion) and an element of theatre, reminding at times of Lutosławski’s most advanced music (Second Symphony, Preludes and Fugue), with some textures that might be attributed to electronic means if they were being used. Lég-szín-tér is impressive and demands further performances.

Hartmann’s Gesangsszene – opening with a solo flute, suggestive of the Pied Piper – is an Expressionist “apocalyptic” (Christian Gerhaher) scena of great intensity, ironic as well, with musical organisation that suggests Schoenberg. It’s about seven minutes until the baritone enters, the orchestra vivid, as it will be throughout, with Gerhaher more a Lieder singer than an operatic one, although he lacked nothing in fierce declamation and oratorical edge. After twenty-five minutes the conclusion is not sensational, rather words spoken confidingly by the soloist, unaccompanied.

György Kurtág’s Stele (a monument) returns to the Philharmonie, where it had its 1994 premiere with the Berliners conducted by Claudio Abbado. Opening with a Beethovenian chord this is music that contrasts skeletal strangeness with railing demonstration, fragility against visceral outbursts, fastidiously notated, ending enigmatically and transcendentally, yet poignantly as if suspended in a timeless dimension.

Throughout, the Berliners (Daishin Kashimoto, concertmaster) were in fabulous form, required to be ‘large’ all evening (Kurtág requires Wagner tubas) with Petrenko a master of these four scores, each received enthusiastically by a full audience. At about seventy-five minutes in total this concert would make a winner of a compact disc and a DVD.