Saturday, January 27, 2024

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

Putting on a concert of Arnold Schoenberg’s music has been described as “box office poison”. Not in Berlin. A few empty seats, yes, although this was also the concert’s third presentation in as many days. Chamber Symphony No.1 in E, Opus 9 (1906), and Die Jakobsleiter, an oratorio, were the works. Scored for fifteen musicians (eleven wind instruments – flautist doubling on piccolo – and string quartet plus bass), Opus 9 is a concentrated masterpiece that strides with confidence, its complexity no barrier to appreciating its ideas, following one another vigorously, or its journeying via a still centre of reflection, especially in a performance as assured as this one, generously expressive, played with bravura (not least the horns, Stefan Dohr and a colleague) and exactitude of ensemble (Noah Bendix-Balgley, concertmaster), for invention living and breathing.

Kirill Petrenko conducted with relish, as he did Jacob’s Ladder, begun in 1914 (text) and 1915 (music) yet the latter was unfinished, mostly in terms of orchestration, at Schoenberg’s death in 1951, with a completion undertaken by Winfried Zillig, the 1961 premiere conducted by Rafael Kubelík, the first recording made by Robert Craft. It’s a dramatic, vibrant and intense score with musical correspondences to the Variations for Orchestra and A Survivor from Warsaw, and also Berg’s Wozzeck, while stratospheric vocal writing cues his Lulu, music of atmosphere and urgent impulses, sometimes ravishing. Superb performance from all concerned. Sixty-five minutes of music may seem short-measure (20/45), but this was a quality rather than a quantity concert, prepared to the highest standard, including the management of Heavenwards offstage perspectives.

Wolfgang Koch baritone (Gabriel)

Daniel Behle tenor (The Called One)

Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke tenor (The Rebellious One)

Johannes Martin Kränzle baritone (The Struggling One)

Gyula Orendt baritone (The Chosen One)

Stephan Rügamer tenor

Nicola Beller Carbone soprano (The Dying One)

Liv Redpath soprano (The Soul/Distance 1)

Jasmin Delfs soprano (The Soul/Height 1)

Rundfunkchor Berlin

“Kirill Petrenko devotes himself to two seminal works of the 20th century. Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 marks a turning point, away from late Romanticism to a more modern musical language. His unfinished oratorio Jacob’s Ladder also demonstrates the expressive power that developed from this transition. The work is based on Jacob’s dream about the ladder to heaven that leads to God – a parable about the human search for spirituality.”