The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

DSO Berlin/Tugan Sokhiev - misguided replay of 2007 broadcast

This broadcast of DSO Berlin should come as warning to a good number of people in Berlin as to what can happen to a good orchestra if left to the wrong leadership. Should DSO Berlin be left something to be free-agent status among a coterie of young marginal talent with very powerful booking agents, we can expect results, as I report below - more often similar to how described here than not.

First piece on the program, by 1950 born Elena Firsova proved quite a find. Firsova rose quickly while in her twenties to prominence on the international new music festival scene after study, consultation with Edison Denisov and also with Austrian émigré composer and Anton Webern protege, Philip Herschkowitz. Firsova wrote Garden of Dreams as homage to Shostakovich. In its well regulated but entirely spontaneous atmospheric writing, redolent of nocturne movements in concerti, symphonies by Shostakovich, this twelve minute piece is really something quite substantial. Subtle psychological references, even quoting the previous composer’s DSCH motif come up. Brass writing at times had chordal structure – luminosity through such occasionally, mildly remindful of the music of Messiaen.

One this occasion however had to listen a little harder than perhaps should be so for this music’s virtues. Tugan Sokhiev, protégé of Valery Gergiev and from same province (Ossetia) got, uncharacteristic of DSO, muddy playing out of the strings, and overall, playing amorphous in line and formal grasp. Calibration of percussion ostinati, similar as to be found in late-period Shostakovich, was weak. In order in part to compensate for what was lacking, Sokhiev tended to underline things excessively; hardly convincingly would doing so ever amount to much.

The Cello Concerto No. 2, Opus 126, of Dmitri Shostakovich, followed. Truls Mork was soloist. Between Sokhiev and Mork, one sensed here unfortunately an apparent contentment to be able to reach a certain level with this music, but to not even attempt making it anywhere beyond that, with what demands this music makes. This performance thus shortchanged the alternatively wistful, elusive, metaphorical, menacing, and ironic character of this music. Interaction by contra-basses of DSO with Mork at the beginning sounded gauzy, vague of both pitch and shape. Mork, in excessively sinking into his opening lines, perhaps in order to better match Sokhiev, denied them the shape they could have.

Contrast between darker sonorities between for instance the opening and of D Major for berceuse second theme got cheated as well; no underlining was at all going to make the difference, including interlude for lower winds that went sour in intonation directly preceding the berceuse. Sokhiev, in embellishing, gilding the ‘toy-shop’ motif episode in the first movement, denied this passage its quintessential surreal, sinister character. Doing such happens, equally misguided, with the first movement of Symphony No. 15. Woodwind parts got covered up to the point of nearly being inaudible and when heard, crudely accented; the climax of the first movement became then overblown. Vague shaping and placement of voicing, color persisted to the end of the first movement, through lingering horn appoggiatura to close all off.

‘Buy my bagels’ was next, but metaphor between (a whore’s) street cry and minor ninth semaphores of living in a mechanized world got smothered out here. We got the usually expected stilted opening to this brief scherzo instead – clipped, bumped - in other words again, the usual. Humor in this very sardonic music got heavily underlined instead of the both subtle and brutal irony of it all Shostakovich’s rhythms abet – as one can so readily hear on a truly definitive recording of this by Frans Helmerson and Valery Polyansky (on Chandos).

In order to keep what vague rhythm persisted in Sokhiev’s concept of this piece secure, he began breaking up and compartmentalizing this music into little sections and then to kletzmar things up even more dragged the beat behind Mork for reprise of the opening tune. Helmerson, pacing things right, makes very convincingly a desperate cry out of all of this. No simplicity, that one had to listen hard for is ever lost on the Chandos disc.

Fanfare/cadenza opening of the third movement was shapeless, mildly apoplectic from all involved. The six-eight of the opening undulating theme of the third movement, first moment of relaxation in six minutes, loosened close to point of being an Elvis nine-eight. March interludes that followed, though with Mork understating matters well, Sokhiev turned into self-caricature. Interaction between upper winds and Mork through much of what then transpired lacked sense of good pulsation underneath. Four note figure antiphony, out of which is built a toccata, instead became demarcated to the point of being silly, followed by Sokhiev making ‘Disney’ out of a more than interesting enough wind-percussion concertato Snare drum and Mork then joined each other in slapping at the music - further attempt at characterization. That led up to a dressing up well of the movement’s climax, thus rendering void all its menace.

Mork, uncharacteristic of his playing, became slithery in pitch in crucial passage before the end of the concerto. Nothing glaringly to least bit inconsistent with what had come before in this performance happened for the last five minutes of this, including Sokhiev’s odd regroupings at the end - i.e., all his scrupulizing with percussion et al.

Perhaps a specialty of the house for Sokhiev, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances started unpromisingly, with the standard clipping of opening notes, rests, barking of the brass dominating the stretti that follow. Sokhiev showed what link Symphonic Dances might have with film music, making even one wonder perhaps if Sergei could have been – even if nobody was looking - a fan of early John Wayne. It is better, especially from double-basses, to leave this kind of suggestion not so easily perceptible.

Sokhiev did not ever sufficiently gain any real steadiness with this music, until into the slower middle section, in which the well played melancholy saxophone solo and violin section copying him gave his idea decent shape. Over-emphasis did become the order of the day right before re-transition to the A secton of the first movement, the re-transition following through with further over-emphasis in much jerky subdividing – making almost combat-Rachmaninoff out of the re-transition.

Molto marcato marking for reprise of the Intro to the movement was too clipped and rushed to be marcato. Sokhiev gilded to 'palm court' level a closing consolation from the violins and then beat time through interesting descanted sonorities of piano, bells, and harp.

Trumpets greeted flat the opening of the waltz second movement, followed by Sokhiev with concertmaster allowing the line proceeding from opening fanfares to sag. DSO’s English horn achieved sour, even almost watery tone for the opening waltz subject, which violins then proceeded to gently back phrase – things thus far not quite out of character yet. Things then clotted in achieving first major crest to the line. Sokhiev had his flutes, upper winds feel, that in order to keep animation or life going, they must heavily accent what they are playing in what started sounding quasi-apoplectic – also making the music break up into minutiae, little sections, much as happened earlier in this concert.

In seeking ever greater profundity for this valse morte, Sokhiev back-phrased each remaining two or three re-statements of its main theme a little more than its previous. For pointing on this and/or slower transitions, an ever heavier application of unsteady vibrato, to grotesquely so, took over here - making ability to achieve the right feeling for this passage way overdone. Intonation in winds in remainder of the waltz turned moldy, mildew-y before all got said and done.

From how things had gone so far, nothing unpredictable happened with the usually capricious finale and through what resulted in a highly clipped and brutal ending to Symphonic Dances. Sokhiev accomplished nothing except to show off what taste he has for incurable over-emphasis. The opening D octave starting the movement got struck so hard that all overtones to the pitch were lost. Much slithery and gauzy tone and intonation greeted more lyrical or subdued passages - clipping and heavy regroupings the main scherzo-like section(s) of the finale.

After hearing how DSO Berlin has been playing lately, it is on verge of slander to pull this broadcast out for replay – except for the value of the still relatively new Firsova piece. One should of course welcome Russian guests on the podium with DSO, such as Vassili Petrenko, Ilan Volkov, and Valery Polyansky. Comparing with Polyansky’s Russian State SO, DSO Berlin here achieved less of their own virtues than does RSSO on their disc of the Shostakovich cello concerti. RSSO aspires well for the intonation that DSO Berlin can get; DSO Berlin itself did far less so here.

Sokhiev does not altogether lack ideas; his having to tweak the music so much apart though comes across that he neither trusts the music to be better able to speak on its own nor also quite has the technique to handle real task at hand.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

free counters