Friday, October 29, 2021

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

The Berlin Phil and its chief conductor are soon off on tour:;;, and this Mendelssohn/Shostakovich coupling is on the travel menu, so too this:

Mendelssohn experienced Scotland first-hand as a walker, its landscape (maybe as pictured), sounds, flings and history. The resulting Symphony has its illustrative qualities, such as the suggestion of morning mists during the Andante, which Kirill Petrenko lingered over with affection, and he was then flexible with the exposition (repeated) to launch a dynamic and detailed account of evergreen music, caressingly contoured without inhibiting animation or painterly description. Petrenko judged well the attaccas between movements: the Scherzo was exuberant, played nimbly and airily; the Adagio was lofty and loving, climaxed passionately, Petrenko sculpting the music; and the Finale was fast and feisty, rhythmically vital, before fading duskily and then reigniting for a majestic and swinging conclusion, during which Petrenko sprung a surprise: a sudden acceleration, which may not have been particularly convincing, but he was smiling joyously, as was the timpanist rattling away on his ‘period’ instruments.

The Shostakovich was inspired – from hushed dark depths, the expansive opening movement, initially broodingly slower than the marked Moderato, was of clandestine thoughts, clarinet offering lonely expression, flute inviting something flickering if without banishing the ominous atmosphere. Something has to break the oppression … cue a searing and grinding outburst, vivid percussion in the mix (two side drums, large gong), hard-working double basses cued by a big galvanising Petrenko gesture, and impassioned ensemble … and then back to where we were, if not quite the same. Following which, the Scherzo, said to be a caricature of Stalin, certainly a biting and vicious whirlwind from Petrenko. He kept the third movement on the move, to advantage, without diminishing its enigmas, a desert over which a horn calls, until a jagged dance erupts, which Petrenko sped into and drove, bells-up horns capping the moment (a tempo, unlike Temirkanov who slams the breaks on at this point). The opening of the Finale was pensive, the Allegro perky, seemingly sunny and cloudless – but you can never tell with cypher-savvy Shostakovich, building to a tension-busting climax, his DSCH motif thundered out. With chains broken the Symphony hurtled to an unambiguous (too easy?) conclusion, (modern) timpani strokes hammering through.

The evening had opened with a touching speech by horn-player Stefan Dohr, followed by a minute’s silence, to remember Bernard Haitink, the concert, coincidentally of works the Dutchman recorded, dedicated to him.