Saturday, February 18, 2023

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

First it was Simon Rattle out and Matthias Pintscher in, – with Ligeti’s Apparitions dropped (surprising given composer-conductor Pintscher’s musical leanings) – and then came a change of singer,

The dinner date with King Ubu remained in the diary, B. A. Zimmermann’s wacky/witty pastiche/quotation-ridden cleverness of a score (first heard in 1968) – for woodwinds, brass, percussion, and string basses, plus – the combo – tenor saxophone, two acoustic guitars, harp, and organ; fun to listen to (not least when ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ is juxtaposed with ‘March to the Scaffold’) if intended to be macabre, after Alfred Jarry’s play, Ubu Roi, and fabulously realised here.

Martinů’s Rhapsody-Concerto is a richly expressive work, the composer’s melodic curves and particular harmonies instantly recognisable for music that turns on a sixpence in terms of mood and tempo, poignantly nostalgic at times, with Slavonic dancing at others, darkly eloquent in the middle movement that leads to a rhythmically incisive Finale before a bittersweet sunset concludes this twenty-minute gem. Amihai Grosz (Philharmoniker principal) played superbly, with much sympathy and virtuosity, enjoying distinctive support from colleagues, the string-players now back in force, and adding further Martinů as an encore, his Madrigal No.1 (there are three), a duo with concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley; interactive fiddling of panache.

György Ligeti’s Requiem opens with quiet muted trombones and the murmuring of a note-bending choir – unearthly in effect – a subtle melange of pitches and timbres, pretty much the style of the whole piece save for varying intensities and dynamics, if with dramatic orchestral colours and interventions, and if fortissimos are few, when they appear they are theatrically striking, music that is uncompromising yet speaks directly through the most-sophisticated and precisely realised of means and in a performance as note-accurate as this one, especially from the chorus (high-lying sopranos to sepulchral basses) and the solo singers’ stratospheric adventures. Matthias Pintscher had the measure of this mesmeric music.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu, ballet noir en sept parties et une entrée for orchestra and combo
Bohuslav Martinů Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra
György Ligeti Requiem

Makeda Monnet soprano; Virpi Räisänen mezzo-soprano; Rundfunkchor Berlin