Thursday, December 31, 2020

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

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Last year Kirill Petrenko and the Berliner Philharmoniker went for an American-themed New Year’s Eve concert with a Broadway emphasis taking in the greats from Gershwin and Richard Rodgers to Bernstein and Sondheim, “Over the Rainbow” to “Send in the Clowns”.

This year they journeyed us to Iberian climes indigenous, exported or imagined. The Spanish backdrop of Beethoven’s Fidelio (Leonore No.3, just first-desk of violins kicking off the closing Presto as per score) and the Folk Feast or Spanish Dance from Shostakovich’s 1955 Gadfly film score neatly justified their inclusion. Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance from El amor brujo, with sharp dynamic contrasts, intensified hairpins, and a more deliberated beat than customary, was turned into a convincing fragment of darkly hued symphonic poem. Gravel and gravitas, intensity and climax permeated Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No.4 (originally for piano, but scored for orchestra in 1942), Petrenko predictably milking the music’s tensions. The tricky rhythms and punctuations of the of the closing Dansa though (“miudinho”, “niggling”) left the orchestra uneasy; similarly (surprisingly) the Shostakovich, in need of tighter cohesion and bite. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol (a long-standing Berlin showpiece – time to try Glinka’s Jota Aragonesa or Salieri’s Folia di Spagna) had its moments but more virtuoso swagger, a less “beautiful”, less analytically thought-out approach, would have been welcome. Letting go, giving players their head, you felt, was never going to come into the equation. (Contrasting Tugan Sokhiev’s intoxicating Toulouse cocktail of lollipops with the Orchestre national du Capitole webcast a couple of hours later.)

Enjoying his moment in the Philharmonie, Pablo Sáinz-Villegas, a gift to publicists and camera directors, elevated Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, making the most of its detail and bringing a thrown-away fragility to its cadences. “The fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, the gushing of fountains” the composer called the work. Following an aristocratically poised opening, the middle movement – evoking the delirium of honeymoon and Rodrigo’s devastation at the miscarriage of his wife’s first pregnancy – encouraged maximum beauty and evenness of tone, rhapsody and ornament at a premium, Dominik Wollenweber’s cor anglais (among many exemplary orchestral solos throughout) floating a song of particularly melancholic sadness. The Finale, commanding in the fluency of right-hand articulation, took on a pulsed, “gentile”, neo-baroque character, arguably a touch moderated and straightlaced in tempo but yielding a delicately alluring scene nonetheless, fading away inevitably and harmoniously. Chris Hazell’s arrangement of the anonymous Spanish Romance from Narciso Yepes’s score for the 1952 French war-film Jeux interdits made for the model encore, a leisurely unfolding of richly coloured minor and major triplets beneath a melody of finely connected and maintained legato spun to perfection. A masterclass in evocación.