Saturday, May 8, 2021

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

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Every now and again a concert comes up that one just listens to, grateful for the chance. This crème de la crème webcast spotlit the sublimely incomparable Tabea Zimmermann, Artist in Residence of the Berliner Philharmoniker during the current season. Noah Bendix-Balgley, joint concertmaster of the Philharmoniker. And Scholars from the privately funded “Learn from the Pros” Academy, founded by Karajan in the early ‘seventies, responsible today for around a third of the orchestra’s membership.

For openers the Second, less frequently heard, of Brahms’s two Serenades, led from the violas by Zimmermann, the resonance of her tone lifting the section without ever dominating it. Befitting the chamber scoring, the ensemble was compact: pairs each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns, five violas, three cellos and two basses. Zimmermann opted for a realisation in the round, the players seated elliptically, facing each other, violas to the left, cellos and basses to the right. I remember Iván Fischer years ago in Budapest directing Bartók’s Divertimento in this way. It makes for a distinctively intimate interactive kind of music-making. Rich in low and mid-range tones, warmly balanced, this was Brahms on an exceptionally refined scale, steeped in north-German ancestry and dialect yet fresh, fluid and onward-going, nothing exaggerated or laboured, emotions running deep in the central Adagio, different strands of the texture gifting their voice and theatre.

Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet were precious and brilliant, the uncredited Scholars rising to spectacular heights of precision and savagery in the Scherzo second movement, the first violinist proving a flamboyant, natural-born virtuoso fearless of the challenges before her, drama, tone and quality projection at a premium. Magnificent. One could only cheer.

Closing on a high, Bendix-Balgley and Zimmermann joined forces for a grandly imagined account of Mozart’s 1779 E-flat Sinfonia concertante, K364. Zimmermann full of coiled energy yet radiating calmness, Bendix-Balgley listening attentively, matching his phrasing, both contributing vibrantly to the tuttis. Their unanimity in the cadenzas was something to behold. Chorusing horns, songful reedy oboes. A throbbing, enveloping bass end, engaged physically. Over time indifferent performances have tended to distance me from this piece. The culture and poetics of this reading brought me back.