Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

Friday, August 27, 2021

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

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Evoking Furtwängler’s ‘warhorse’ days, the Berliner Philharmoniker’s 21-22 season (Kirill Petrenko’s third) opened in a mood rejoicing a return to near normal conditions. At around eighty-percent capacity, the audience – 2,000 of them – cheered to the rafters. The players – strings back to single stands per desk – revelled and beamed. Petrenko – wonderment, energy, humility, near manic intensity in his chemistry – waiting on the runway.

Stefan Dohr, solo horn, floated Weber’s Oberon Overture more magically than I’ve heard in years. Otherworldly strings (minus double basses) and woodwinds matching. This was a grand, virtuoso reading, biting in attack, tuttis powered bottom upwards. Typically, Petrenko made the most of texture, dynamics and contrapuntal incident. But also indulged in unexpected extremes of tempo: Allegro con fuoco at around crotchet 140 (feeling more like two than four in a bar), the dolce second subject at 88-100. Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, premiered in New York by Rodziński in 1944, was introduced to Berlin by Furtwängler in September 1947, the composer recording it with the Philharmoniker eight years later. It’s lost none of its brilliance or impact. “A real jeu d’esprit by a great master of his medium in a singularly happy mood”, maintained Olin Downes reviewing the first performance in the New York Times. Imperiously in command, Petrenko and his pedigree stars excelled magnificently, thrillingly. The highlight of the evening.

Some cultured performances have come my way recently of Schubert’s ‘Great C-major’ Symphony (No.7 for Brahms, No.8 these days in Germany, Austria and the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe). One in particular from Nathalie Stutzmann and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln (July), another from Blomstedt and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester (December), both veering on the spacious side. Petrenko knows and loves his Schubert, his descendency from Beethoven, his lighting of the Bruckner-Mahler way. “He was so eloquent. There’s less reworking, instead he drew things out at greater length in rhetorical conversations, the dialogue between different groups, this phrasing based on the interplay between stressed and unstressed beats, this ebb and flow, this build-up to a harmony and the slow relaxation over several bars. For me this is all bound up with his relationship with language. This Symphony sounds very Austrian. I recognise a waltz, a ländler, even a polka. One even imagines seeing various types of Austrian landscape: sometimes mountains, sometimes water, sometimes it’s more like the Danube, at other times more austere … he didn’t take over folk music on a one-to-one basis but he turned it into art.”

We got a poetic, refined, songful, motivic, jagged, violent, occasionally uneasy, cumulatively epic reading. All repeats. A visceral dynamic range from ppp to fff – the second-movement climax (letter I) screaming and anguished, those stabbing unisons of the Finale (letter N) taking on the sonic and visual dimension of an unstoppable cavalry charge, orchestra at full strength physically on a high, Petrenko at the core of the action.

Kirill Petrenko and the Berliner Philharmoniker: The beginning of a partnership [Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings, CDs & Blu-ray DVDs].

Post #2,500: Kirill Petrenko and the Bavarian State Orchestra release Mahler’s Seventh Symphony on Bayerische Staatsoper Recordings.