Sunday, March 27, 2022

Great Hall, Schloss Bellevue, Spreeweg 1, 10557 Berlin

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

At the invitation of the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, this hour-long Ukraine solidarity concert in Berlin’s late-eighteenth-century presidential palace featured musicians from but not only Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Germany, a “common belief in the values of freedom and self-determination” uppermost in everyone’s thoughts. Replacing Kirill Petrenko, taken ill, his Japanese assistant Nodoka Okisawa, currently on a two-year scholarship with the Karajan Academy, took over the reins with assured, undemonstrative professionalism, coolness and calm to the fore. Playing to a small select audience in a famously handsome but relatively dry room, the choice of programme made for a dark voyage. True, Evgeny Kissin’s Chopin A-flat Polonaise Opus 53, efficient if not especially heroic – his Steinway D failing to yield a return or resonance commensurate with his physical power and fingerwork – conjured a flag of hope. To misquote/misplace Arthur Hedley post-1945, “well might the exiles rise to their feet and strike up the old song: ‘Ukraine has not perished yet, since her sons are living!’” But then there was Prince Yeletsky’s Act II aria from Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, with Rodion Pogossov – its closing words transformed perceptibly from personal cry to public comment, to a wider reflection on the atrocities of conflict dividing people, crushing life, and abusing heritage. “All my soul shares in your suffering, Your sadness is mine. Your tears, I weep them too.”

Shostakovich’s 1944 Piano Trio journeys winter’s desolation, “the only one” of his works, Dmitri and Ludmilla Sollertinsky recalled years later, “in which there is neither relief nor reconciliation, where the forces of evil, destruction and death prevail.” Joining Kissin (a shade uneasy in these waters), Daishin Kashimoto, co-leader of the Berliner Philharmoniker, and Uladzimir Sinkevich from Belarus, solo cello of the Munich Radio Orchestra since 2011, informed the Largo and Hasidic Allegretto with grief and disembodiment, the latter’s pianissimo coda yielding no solace in its paradoxically balm-defying E-major chords: “the Jews are now all dead,” an American observer reminds us, “all that persists is the empty echo of their dance.”

“Music should be so transparent that one can see the bottom and that poetry shimmers through this transparency.” Three weeks ago, Valentin Silvestrov, now eighty-four, was in Kyiv, refusing to move whatever the aggression and ruin about him. Kyiv was where he was born, where he studied with Boris Lyatoshynsky at the Conservatory, where his home is. Urged repeatedly to leave, a suitcase of manuscripts for luggage, he fled for Berlin, arriving March 8. In the front row of this concert, wearing a Zelenskyy-style T-shirt, bird-like in his energised curiosity, he cut a figure hearteningly belying age and trauma. The reduced strings of the Philharmoniker opened and closed the morning with ‘Evening Serenade’ from his Silent Music (2002) and Elegy (2000-02). Careful, delineated playing under Okisawa: might Petrenko have released more ensemble confidence, a richer-toned sound world? Silent Music, “metaphors of silence”. “Metaphors,” Silvestrov says, “because the melody is a symbol of something that cannot be expressed, rather than something that can imply some kind of life-affirming happiness. I call it ‘flowers, gathered in the meadows of Elysium’. It can be deemed ‘music of the shadows’ […] because profile is as important here as in the theatre of shadows. In music, profile is melody.” Refined and exactingly textured, the Elegy, interleaving late pencil-sketches by the composer’s Yalta-born/Kyiv-based friend Ivan Karabits (1945-2002), stands with the great string in memoriams of the repertory, deserving far wider recognition than it gets.

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