Alban Berg (1885-1935)

Friday, November 3, 2023

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

Following a few weeks of guest conductors, the Berliner Philharmoniker welcomed back Kirill Petrenko for this Austro-German programme, opening with Mozart’s Twenty-Ninth Symphony, a lightly elegant account played with poise, the first movement on the speedy side, if dancing, as well as harmonically and dynamically aware, its successor flowing and songful, then a lively Minuet enclosing a slightly slower and expressive Trio, all rounded by a fizzing Finale, which however well-played was just a little streamlined, as at some other times.

Following the interval, Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, his farewell to the genre, beautifully played (beguiling woodwinds) and sculptured – majestic and eloquent – time allowed for intimacies, and with a patrician sense of direction – romantic feelings enshrined within classical proportions, the slow movement luxuriously poetic yet innate. By contrast the Scherzo hurtled along with bubbling good nature, and the passacaglia Finale was intensely connected within itself leading to a momentous culmination.

In between, the astonishing masterpiece that is Alban Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, Opus 6 – “music of genius” (Petrenko) – huge forces, incredibly complex writing, yet lucid as to compositional processes, and to the uncompromising passions and depth of emotions embedded in a score from World War I (revised 1929), culminating in a terrifying ‘March’, including Mahler Six-like hammer-blows that add to the thrilling tumult, disturbing yet alluring, the whole played heroically, and sensitively regarding colours and textures. Karajan made a great recording of Opus 6 with the Berliners for DG in December 1972, now seriously challenged by San Francisco and MTT. Despite the intricate demands Berg places on performers, this concert account conducted by Petrenko rose to impressive heights. BP and KP are now off on a tour of Asia, these works plus Reger and Strauss.

San Francisco Symphony – Michael Tilson Thomas records Alban Berg with Gil Shaham and Susanna Phillips for SFS Media.