Friday, June 26, 2020

Großer Saal, Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg, Germany

No audience, carefully chosen reduced-forces repertoire for our distancing times … Thomas Adès’s 1990 Chamber Symphony is scored thus: “fl(=picc+afl).ob.basset cl.bcl – hn.tpt(=wine bottle).trbn – perc(2): tgl/c.bell/wdbl/SD/hi-hat/guiro/3 tam-t/2 small finger drum/wood chimes/flexatone/belltree/shell chimes/mar/crot – pno(=accordion) – 2 vln.vla.vlc.db” [Faber]. Chamber Symphony is short, certainly Chamber, slinky and sinister, reporting atmospheric nocturnal jazz, Gershwin meets late Stravinsky, varied colours, the music soon jettisoning its subtle swing for something intense and ever-more complex before diminishing to eerie fragility. Good piece, good performance.

In Shostakovich’s Concerto in C-minor for Piano, Trumpet and Strings (Piano Concerto No.1, Opus 35), Igor Levit ran the gamut of styles to be found within this characteristic score: searching and dreamy, volatile, Levit electrifying the ink-still-wet piano-writing and looking deeply into the soulful beauty of the Lento. A drawback was the too-few, thin-sounding, number of strings, founded on two basses. Banished to the back of the platform, commenting from afar as an isolated voice – maybe that was the point – Pedro Miguel Freire (principal trumpet, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester) played brilliantly, and, as a whole, from all the protagonists, the invention’s acerbity, drollness, heartache and – in the final sprint – silent-film accompaniment (Keystone Cops chase music), of which latter Shostakovich had two-hand experience, were well-captured. Lacking was the sense of playing for an audience, however invisible and with identities unknown.

Despite the addition of winds and timpani, there remained lots of visible stage for Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, short on gravitas in the first movement: normally a measured tempo is all to the good but dragged on this occasion. The slow movement was silken in its spin, the Scherzo & Trio indivisible in tempo, and if the opening movement was held back, the Finale was helter-skelter, narrowly avoiding a fall for the bassoonist. All repeats, by the way.

Despite excellent sound and deft direction of the cameras the feeling left was that this, in effect, studio concert was rather sterile … but good of course that musicians are able to maintain and share their skills.