Saturday, May 21, 2022

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

Haydn’s B-flat Symphony 102 occupied the first half. With the Berlin strings appropriately laid out, led (I’m pretty sure) by Rainer Honeck from the Vienna Philharmonic – antiphonal violins, basses (three) left-positioned – and with winds liberated to become the strings’ equals (Stefan Dohr & Sarah Willis were the hornists), trumpets and crisp-sounding/dynamic timpani especially vivid, this was an incident-packed rendition opening with a slow introduction of gravitas, although the ensuing Allegro was on the nifty side, irrespective of poised and colourful playing. Sir Simon conducted the Largo, with beautifully played cello solos, con amore, and a few ‘authentic’ niceties, and then drove the Minuet merrily along, yet managed to relate the Trio, delectably turned with honeyed woodwinds, to it. If the Finale flew by, it did at least enjoy precise and unanimous ensemble; and – following the car-crash that was Spinosi’s recent Haydn 82 in Frankfurt, – it was good to hear a Haydn performance in which the composer comes first, is helped along by sympathetic friends, and was able to leave the scene unscathed.

Following the interval, with the Berliners at full-strength (including two harps, mandolin, celesta, piano and percussion; increased basses, six, now to the right; violas outside-right), the Rattle-compiled Stravinsky Journey, a continuous hour-long “tasting menu” of Stravinsky selections from his numerous decades of creativity. Bookended (said the conductor) by Agon in the way the work itself begins and ends, and including Fireworks, a song from Faun and Shepherdess (which would pass for Tchaikovsky) and the ‘lost and found’ Funeral Song, this was an enjoyable and enlightening non-chronological compilation that avoided the ‘usual subjects’, played impeccably, and sung wonderfully by soprano Anna Lapkovskaya. Other vocal numbers included some Russian-spiky, and a cat accompanied by three clarinets; also present were the bouncy ‘Madrid’ (from Four Etudes), a few dips into Suites 1 & 2, ‘Cortège’ from Four Norwegian Moods, Circus Polka (for an elephant and in which Schubert marches in), excerpts from the twelve-note Variations: Aldous Huxley in memoriam contrasted with the bittersweet close of Apollon musagète contrasted with the swinging exuberance of Scherzo à la russe, and it was the latter that in fact closed this adventure, although the end of Agon had preceded it (maybe Sir Simon changed his mind regarding the order after his filmed introduction had been made). And maybe I misunderstood, but I was expecting something from (the vocal) Requiem Canticles; if it appeared I missed it. A Philharmoniker CD would be welcome.

Berliner Philharmoniker – Simon Rattle conducts Roberto Gerhard’s Don Quixote and Collages, and Dvořák’s American Suite and Scherzo capriccioso [live Digital Concert Hall webcast].

Postscript: I was sent the following list (pasted in Comments) from the Berliner Philharmoniker press office – for which many thanks – and it’s clear that I missed Requiem canticles, and possibly invented Huxley being included; also that the non-mentioned Scherzo à la russe might have been a late addition, after the list was published.