Friday, December 31, 2021

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

The end of another year, a time to reflect on some Berlin highlights during the first half of the current season, such as Herbert Blomstedt’s Bruckner Five in which the conductor’s many decades of experience and his undiminished enthusiasm for music fused so positively,, or Zubin Mehta’s Mahler Three, ending with a transcending Finale that displayed a remarkable rapport between conductor and orchestra in terms of inner responses,, and Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa, which was the revelation of a masterpiece,

Conducting Mazeppa was Kirill Petrenko, who was due to preside over this early-evening New Year Eve’s concert. In his place Lahav Shani (leaving his scores, and any baton he may have brought with him, in the dressing room),, who opened the (partly altered) programme with the Overture to Die Fledermaus in a sparkling and elegant account fuelled with pizzazz. In the second of the three Suites (1919) from Stravinsky’s Firebird, mysteries, colours and fairy-tale narration abounded, although the menace of the ‘Infernal Dance’ was somewhat subdued due to a tempo a degree or two ‘under’. The playing was as subtle and agile as it was vivid, qualities that served Ravel’s La valse equally well, yet the music’s mounting destructive force was too contained and then pushed through, Shani not siding with George Benjamin’s apt words: “Whether or not [La valse] was intended as a metaphor for the predicament of European civilization in the aftermath of the Great War, its one-movement design plots the birth, decay and destruction of a musical genre: the waltz.”

As centrepiece in this without-interval concert, Janine Jansen played Max Bruch’s G-minor Violin Concerto (the only such work he needed to write, posterity has judged, but Jack Liebeck for Hyperion knows better), intense throughout, fiery, tender and athletic, with an especially heartfelt slow movement, the Berliners offering a characterful accompaniment studded with beguiling woodwinds; passions simmering and also fully vented. Jansen’s encore was pre-ordained, Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid, bittersweet charm to express Love’s Sorrows. Following the Ravel, a brilliant and bounding ‘Galop’ from Khachaturian’s Masquerade music, previous inhibitions now let off the leash. Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley sent New Year greetings in German and English.

Berlin Phil Horns: The Horncracker Suite.