Saturday, September 10, 2022

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

With this concert Thomas Adès made his conducting debut with the Berlin Philharmonic (recently he did similarly with the Vienna Philharmonic).

In Berlin he conducted an excellent account of the Berlioz – atmospheric, suspenseful, then driving the music in the fast lane without compromising clarity, and shaping the lyrical melody (signature-tune for BBCTV’s Monitor programme, many years ago) ideally, followed by an excitement of incidents – whether musical development or characteristic orchestration – with a stealthy growth of intensity maintained to the dashing conclusion. Gerald Barry’s fifteen-minute Chevaux-de-frise is a battering-ram piece ( – strident and aggressive, staccato, rhythmic alacrity (a feast of time-signatures), momentarily poetic, yet the only percussion is a glockenspiel (and maybe the piano counts as percussive). It’s a stunning piece (greeted with consternation at its premiere) and was here given a super-virtuoso performance – Adès in complete technical command of music he admires greatly, and the Berliners were simply amazing in the way they dealt with the demands. Gerald Barry was present.

Of Adès’s own works, the ‘Concentric Paths’ Violin Concerto – concentrated into less than twenty minutes – is a complex web of sound in the first movement, plenty of notes for the soloist, its short span followed by the longer slow movement, music that seems bitter, certainly strongly emotional and with the orchestra no reliever of the angst, even reflective passages remain burdened, and the quick final movement has a dance-like quality which remains complexly tight-knit – you need your “listening ears” (Judge Judy) for this work and then it’s very rewarding. One imagines that Pekka Kussisto was typically his own man, here with the composer conducting and therefore not likely to let him have too much leeway, the orchestral writing dictates that anyway, without suppressing his personality, and he offered “a beautiful song” as an encore, presumably Finnish traditional. Ades’s twenty-five-minute Exterminating Angel Symphony (from his opera based on the Buñuel film) is music of unease suggesting strangeness and ominous darkness; there’s also a high-octane militaristic march with an insistently loud side drum, something nocturnally dreamy if eerie, and a waltz that’s on the edge. A first-class performance.

Hector Berlioz Les Francs-juges: Overture
Thomas Adès Concerto for Violin and Orchestra “Concentric Paths”
Gerald Barry Chevaux-de-frise
Thomas Adès The Exterminating Angel Symphony

CBSO/Adès; June 17, 2002; Aldeburgh Festival.