Saturday, November 19, 2022

Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

The ‘Prussian Apollo’, Prince Louis Ferdinand was born this past weekend two-hundred-and-fifty years ago – November 18, 1772. In Friedrichsfelde Castle near Berlin. Nephew of Frederick the Great. A handsome, cultured courtier – women were charmed by him (he fathered several children with at least three) – he was admired as musician and improviser. In 1796 the young Beethoven noted that ”he plays not at all like a king or a prince but like a real pianist” – one drawn strikingly to forward-looking ornamentation, fioriture and roulades. In 1840 Robert Schumann called him ”that most Romantic of all princes.” Reicha dedicated his L’Art de varier to him. In 1804 Dussek (his former teacher in boyhood Hamburg) entered his service, Reicha having turned down the position. Hohenzollern aristocrat, Bohemian artist. Sharing aspirations, playing off each other, witnessing death among the Napoleonic killing-fields. Their chemistry, Spohr reported, was “wild and reckless”. Commanding more than eight-thousand men, Louis Ferdinand lost his life, aged thirty-three, at the Battle of Saalfeld, October 13, 1806, shot by a quartermaster of the French 10th Hussars for refusing the surrender. Outspokenly political, with a reputation for bravery, German nationalism central to his philosophy (and philosopher associations), his heroism and deeds echoed down the decades. Dussek commemorated his passing in his F-sharp minor Élégie harmonique […] en forme de Sonate Opus 61.

“With his almost extravagant individuality, Louis Ferdinand was a child of the early Romantic era” (Barbara H. McMurtry, New Grove). This cleverly planned WDR programme caught both the child and the grown-ups who lived to carry the banner. For starters, a beautifully imagined tone-poem of the gentlest variety: Detlev’s Galnert’s subtle 2021 orchestration of Liszt’s Élégie sur des motifs du Prince Louis Ferdinand de Prusse, published in Berlin in 1843 and revised nine years later. The floating dream-world of ‘Le lac de Wallenstadt’, ‘Ricordanza’, the first of Chopin’s Opus 25 Studies. Structurally unfussed, it’s a finely calculated piece, the more agitated material and chordal theme quoting from the first movement of Louis’s Second Piano Quartet (the deliriously languorous idea of the opening/closing sections I need yet to trace). Respecting the atmosphere and timbre/pedalling of the piano original (transposed up a semitone to A notwithstanding), refraining from gratuitous personal overlay (possible excess of timpani aside), Glanert gives us a delectable eight-minute addition to the repertory. Scenes (Doctor Zhivago, Gretchen), heightened nuances (harp, woodwind solos, brass chording), pass by, evoking a throwback period landscape holding the attention cinematically. Dima Slobodeniouk and the WDR Sinfonieorchester embraced the vision with quality and intensity, wisely not too fast, the many ritardandos and shaped cadences placed eloquently, speaking without disrupting momentum. Taking a bow, Glanert seemed well pleased.

Beethoven dedicated his C-minor Piano Concerto to Louis Ferdinand. Martin Helmchen, pedigree classicism quintessentialised, gave a distinguished account, power and poetry, rhetoric and theatre, tensioned with elegance, clarity and split-second co-ordination. His temperament and touch never let one down. Not a rough sound or crude dynamic to be had. Saalfeld 250 miles to the east. Distant war-drums rumbling the semiquavers. Efflorescent emotions. Richly grained music-making. Rightness in every gesture. For encore a legato-lined Bach-Reger chorale prelude, Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ!, To Thee I Cry. Schumann’s Fourth Symphony in the second half, Beethovenian in energy and emphasis, was imperiously projected – a continuous four-movement ‘fantasia’, sweepingly, directionally, paragraphed. Tovey thought the work “possibly Schumann’s greatest and most masterly conception.” Not all conductors manage to convey that successfully. Slobodeniouk isn’t one of those. Orchestra and audience were on the edge of their seats. Understandably.