Saturday, April 22, 2023

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

This week has brought Klaus Mäkelä to the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time. This was the third outing for this B-minor programme, which might have been better with the Tchaikovsky first leaving the Shostakovich to end the evening exuberantly, irrespective of any ciphers.

Chronology compromised, it was the 1939 Shostakovich, a Leningrad/Mravinsky premiere, that opened, the expansive Largo (which would have emerged naturally from the nothingness conclusion of the ‘Pathétique’) impressive in terms of depth of sound if not necessarily finding the ominous chill that lies within the music despite eloquent woodwind solos and tutti intensity, yet that richness of timbre sometimes went against the lonely soulfulness that needs to be conveyed; an even slower tempo – Mäkelä reached an about-average eighteen minutes (Bernstein on his DG/Vienna recording gets to twenty-three, albeit an extreme example) – might have conjured a disturbing atmosphere. Mäkelä judged well the respective tempos for the remaining two movements – Allegro; Presto – although both were short of the edge (and the Allegro emotional eruption) that carries the music, however brilliant the playing and scrupulous the detailing.

(A reminder of the Philharmoniker’s recent Shostakovich release:

The Tchaikovsky was similarly striking in terms of preparation and performance but rarely plumbed the inspiration of the work – a musical Last Word – and if it’s not that then Mäkelä’s rather classical reading came off very well in terms of tempos and their relationships, a refusal to linger or to impose subjectivity. The middle movements fared best, the 5/4 one unaffectedly shaped and the subsequent march avoided being hectic (and cued no clapping), whereas the outer ones were short on passionate identification, although the Adagio Finale was refreshingly unsentimental, which maybe doesn’t explain why this Symphony ends as it does.

My first awareness of Makelä was a remarkable Mahler Nine from Paris; more recently an uneven Sibelius cycle courtesy of Oslo and a mixed-success Stravinsky release. Reviews of these, and other Mäkelä’s, below.