Saturday, May 20, 2023

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

Mikko Franck conducted works by three fellow-Finns, beginning with the recently late Einojuhani Rautavaara’s A Requiem in Our Time (1953), scored for brass and percussion, opening with a stridently martial section, then agile passages contrast with sonorous ones, followed by music of energetic rhythmic panache, and with a solemn songlike envoi featuring a baritone horn. From ten or so minutes and a specific ensemble to something longer requiring a chorus (Rundfunkchor Berlin) and large orchestra (piano, harp, celesta, plenty of everything) for Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Karawane (2014), Zurich- and Dada-related, setting made-up, meaningless Dadaist words, sometimes through Ligeti-like effects or chanted (Stravinsky’s Les noces came to mind occasionally), mysterious and hypnotic, orchestrally luminous, changes of tempo seamless while retaining the impression of being on an island not found on any map inhabited by a tribe that is unchanged since the dawn of civilisation. When the chorus is silent the orchestra weaves some ravishing timbres and expressions and when the singers return a jazzy party, a jam session, is initiated before a hedonistic ritual takes hold thrillingly to end the piece on a high. Karawane is terrific, easily sustaining its thirty minutes, a timing that flew by in this inspired performance.

Salonen studied with Rautavaara, and he on the strength of A Requiem in Our Time was able to meet Sibelius, at the latter’s invitation, so it was appropriate that the senior composer’s Fifth Symphony should end the concert. Franck led a magisterial account, as scenic as it was symphonic, as pianissimo as it was fortissimo, as intimate as it was passionate, always sure of its trajectory while not overlooking how nodal points are reached, thus the first movement’s transition into scherzo-like material (some of the latter near to a whisper and always poised) was indivisible, and ended in a blaze of sound. The second movement was not really either Andante or quasi Allegretto, instead rather languorous kept on-track by a definite pizzicato tread, and the Finale also was denied any rush so that the swans’ flypast was integrated as gloriously opened-up (and poignant), the music held in-tempo so as to make the climbing to the summit both logical and inevitable, a striven-for ascent, silences a little longer than usual, the ultimate chords (each with two timpani strokes) extraordinarily powerful … triumphant.