Saturday, December 3, 2022

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

Returned from its recent tour with Kirill Petrenko, the Berliner Philharmoniker opened its latest DCH relay with Dvořák’s Carnival Overture, a zesty affair under Tugan Sokhiev, a precise and articulate performance graced by suave woodwinds and plentiful details (not least from timpani and piccolo), with a mid-point tender and affectionate nocturnal interlude, and an exuberant coda made the more so by a subtle if effective increase in speed during the final measures.

Lalo’s D-minor Cello Concerto (1876) was last played at a Philharmoniker concert in 1983 when the soloist was Pierre Fournier. It’s not a great work, and the arresting introduction promises much that is not delivered, for as compact as the work is, and despite some attractive romantic ideas, it rambles and comes across as disjointed. Yet, what a lovely rendition from Bruno Delepelaire (the orchestra’s principal cellist) whose rich-toned, shapely, intense and virtuoso playing made the strongest possible case for this also-ran of a Concerto, and he was given committed support from colleagues and Sokhiev. For an encore, Delepelaire offered his own arrangement of Marin Marais’s Les Folies d’Espagne, masterly in every respect.

Sokhiev’s selection of scenes and dances (an A-to-Z) from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake proved very enjoyable. Forget choreography, this was a symphonic approach, descriptive music for orchestra, dancers not required, Sokhiev and the Berliners working hard on timbre, dynamics, colours and blends, new-minting those sections of the score that Sokhiev chose, an extended Suite of fifty minutes, including an Act I ‘Waltz’ of imperial grandeur and poise while avoiding distortion of line, the playing throughout always expressive – invidious then to single out oboist Jonathan Kelly – the music sometimes welling up with passion or marching with swagger. The cygnets were a humorous bunch (underpinned by a perky bassoon); harpist and concertmaster made a charismatic duo, later a beguiling trio with a cellist who isn’t Delepelaire; the Act III ‘Divertissement’ was given with rhythmic verve (brilliant cornet solo); and Act IV enjoyed dramatic tension, ending expansively, sonorously and gloriously, trumpets gleaming. Here was Tchaikovsky’s music mined for its full and considerable potential.