Wolfgang Rihm (born 1952)

Saturday, September 3, 2022

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

An arresting opening, of energy, unleashing large-orchestra exuberance and expressionism, as Wolfgang Rihm alludes to the music of his German forebears in one of his Verwandlung (transformation) pieces, of which there are six to date. Long-serving music director Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra opened with Verwandlung 3, which has the feel of a ‘concert overture’, and if you only heard the conclusion, you’d swear the composer was a youthful Richard Strauss. Verwandlung 2 followed, longer at fifteen minutes by five, more elusive if not without crescendos, colourful climaxes, and a definite conclusion. These two pieces, and presumably the other four, are not about ‘spot the composer’ (there are no quotations, that I heard) but rather about appreciating that Rihm knows where he is coming from and is creating styles based on the past, updated in the Rihm manner, itself capricious. Superb playing.

As it was throughout the Schubert – pinpoint and refined ensemble, airy textures, distinguished solos – which flowed effortlessly with ideal tempos (moving along if never rushed) and finely balanced, everything related and belonging, Welser-Möst stamping his Austrian heritage on the music, especially when being gemütlich (often) and dancing/singing (Scherzo/Trio), the latter movement still with the questionable halting emphases to be found on their own-label recording, http://www.colinscolumn.com/the-cleveland-orchestra-franz-welser-most-conducts-schubert-krenek/. As there, all repeats were observed except in the Finale – a relief to the string-players – and Welser-Möst’s easygoing tempo was perhaps the highlight of the performance. Despite prolonged applause there was no encore.