Saturday, May 28, 2022

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

Symphonies in reverse. You might expect Sibelius Seven, and its momentous journey to land on C-major, to end a concert. Equally the compact, humorous and exhilarating Beethoven Eight to start. Paavo Järvi had other ideas.

The Sibelius, introduced by a carefully turned timpani figure that suggested something special was about to occur (these instruments would be pertinently clear throughout, although the strings were less than refulgent, maybe a consequence of Järvi seeking a Nordic ambience), had time and space on its side, Järvi’s broad approach accommodating the composer’s concentration of symphonic elements indivisibly, whether majestic, with powerful trombones, or scherzando, with lucid textures, leading to catastrophe, then calm, and a secure arrival.

Following intermission, Beethoven’s first movement was sprightly yet shapely, suspenseful in ppp (dynamics were notable over the Symphony’s course) with motivic clarity an uppermost concern, and the closing gesture all the wittier for being left alone; well, almost. The metronome of the second movement was presented as a jocular implement, and then Järvi introduced an unexpected if effective attacca into the not-a-Scherzo Minuet, Beethoven’s look-back, robustly handled by Järvi, with exemplary contributions from the horn duo, clarinettist and cellist in the Trio. The Finale surely cannot be played faster than this, the Berliners’ ensemble faultless however, accents punchy, an animated Järvi looking to his left, then his right – antiphonal violins in other words – yet, as lively as all this was, the work seemed over too soon, and with it the concert as a whole.

Given its world-premiere two nights ago, this was the third performance of Järvi’s fellow-Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Lux Stellarum, a Berliner Philharmoniker/Zürich Tonhalle co-commission for Emmanuel Pahud, his flute in flight, with occasional musing, for half-an-hour, the large orchestra used for spectral variety, although without-flute tuttis are denser, the work’s progress as mercurial as it is dramatic, although what to make of the seemingly ambiguous ending is not apparent on a first listen. Beyond doubt was Pahud’s mastery of a part that Järvi thought unplayable at first sight (the interval’s informal dialogue between composer, soloist and conductor, in English, proved interesting), and Tüür’s orchestral writing seems no-less challenging – but the listener has it relatively easier; plenty of incident, mind, and certainly a score to return to, ditto Tüür’s Mythos.

The next few weeks in Berlin, to wrap the current Philharmoniker season, include concerts with Kirill Petrenko and guest-visits from John Storgårds and Sakari Oramo:

PÄRNU MUSIC FESTIVAL: 13-22 July 2022.