Saturday, December 9, 2023

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

This week marked the Philharmoniker debut of Robin Ticciati, although he’s no stranger to Berlin or the Philharmonie (thanks to his conductorship of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester). He offered Mahler Four, which mostly failed to engage, for me. The first movement was quick (Mahler advises caution), and for all the poised and detailed playing – fabulous horn contributions from Stefan Dohr – rustic and nightmarish elements were glossed over, creating a manicured and jaunty traversal dressed impeccably in a Savile Row suit. At least the concertmaster’s tuned-higher ‘second’ violin added some edge to the next movement, which anyway bordered on the bland, although such cossetting suited the conductor’s spacious approach to the Adagio, which issued sublime as well as divergent moments, although the big climax wasn’t momentous enough or its envoi sufficiently poignant. In the Finale Elsa Benoit was a beguiling correspondent about activities in Heaven yet she needed a little more time to report than Ticciati was willing to give her – some syllables got lost in her breathlessness, and during the interludes Ticciati released numerous fierce creatures.

Centrally was Sinuous Voices (2004/09) by the multi-cultural and well-travelled (Prague-born) Ondřej Adámek, music for a small group of strings outweighed by winds (including soprano and tenor saxophones), percussion, harp and piano for a succession of active timbres that are sonically attractive and unpredictable if emerging as a notated free-for-all with any underlying structure difficult to discern. The concert had started so promisingly with Dvořák’s The Noonday Witch (Opus 108), one of four gruesome Erben tales (this one involves the death of a child) that the composer chose to ‘tell’ orchestrally, vivid and spooky from Berlin, with suspenseful silences, tense moments, and a seismic pay-off. Every note that oboist Jonathan Kelly played was exquisite.

Czech Philharmonic/Václav Talich (1954).

Vienna Philharmonic/Seiji Ozawa (Philips recording).