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.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

DSO Berlin: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Berwald, and from near equally Nordic perspective, a compelling Bruckner Ninth

The combination of a Franz Berwald symphony with the last and most forward looking of the Bruckner proved stimulating here – and in which way Herbert Blomstedt musically worked out what rationale there may be to putting both together. There were flaws in how Blomstedt went about things, not so much in conception, as perhaps a matter of complacency combined with cultural feeling from locus equipping him how it has - as influencing especially his way of interpreting the Bruckner. Apparently of great interest was how material is developed more than just its character itself. Blomstedt hears Berwald as fine at demonstrating this on its own, but for the Bruckner, here was a way Blomstedt intervened in abetting matters. Blomstedt, a seasoned interpreter of Sibelius, Nielsen, but also of Bruckner, was ultimately seldom far off any mark here with either.

Berwald’s music, for its even peculiar characteristics, appealed to me at a young age. He wrote four symphonies in the early 1840’s, soon after Schumann had started composing his. All of them bear descriptive titles instead of numbering. The ‘singuliere’ is presumably the third and likely the most dramatic as well. It carries with it – with scherzo middle section to central Adagio – the idea of being in a more conventional four-movement layout, even though in three movements. With the dancing, scherzo-like character for much of the ‘capricieuse’ it seemed superfluous to have added a full-fledged scherzo. Though not more so, the opening movement of Sinfonie capricieuse indicates as much his influence on Sibelius as on Carl Nielsen. According to Harold Truscott, It is his interesting manipulation of sonata form - with events placed often in different than usual order and way Berwald sheds light on doing so that is compelling.

Play the first movement of ‘capricieuse’ (Berwald’s second) also in D Major alongside scherzo of the Sibelius Second, should you have any doubt. There is no Sigmund Spaeth like detective work to do here – not like as could be for between tune to Chris Walken’s noir Dead Zone (what Walken is not film noir?) and second movement of Sibelius Second. Just the character of the writing is so similar; for that, momentarily. Sibelius hardly seems so original anymore. I unusually favor the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh over the Second among the Sibelius canon. That Berwald prefigured at all the towering Nielsen and Sibelius cycles just proves that from small acorns do large trees grow.

Blomstedt, very fine editor of the score to ‘singuliere’, felt here most attuned to the utter simplicity of Berwald’s inspiration. His music that Eduard Hanslick said (or carped) lacked creative power and fantasy does not lay it out on the surface that it indeed is in fact imaginatively creative. It is just different than what people in central Europe were accustomed to hearing. In its using such different language as it does, it may have even mildly proved an irritant; Berwald’s language is hardly more dissonant than what else was getting written at the time.

Berwald was hardly a radical, but it was his natural prerogative to discover how his structural methods should uniquely absorb sense of the wide expanse of space in which he lived most of his life. Such individual and subtle departure from classical principles of orchestral design is present just toward being distinct from much else. The polarity of tonal centers interval of a fifth apart that after Beethoven was taking somewhat of a hit anyway still interested Berwald, but while staying coherent, it was not, with attendant expected worked out implications, paramount. Interesting but flawed are the Thomas Dausgaard interpretations of the Berwald symphonies – Dausgaard who conducts Schumann with strings affecting method of playing on gut strings. Ostinato figure out of which the first theme of opening to the ‘singuliere’ is built gets to underpin during bridge passages ascending triplets that make it alone obliquely to tonal center a whole tone apart. Might you have trouble making it out, then Dausgaard is your man. I often argue for making music sound – not as the ‘period’ movement in using weaker instruments –as fresh and innovative as it did when new. Neeme Jarvi (DGG) is the most natural at characterizing both the more progressive and dramatic aspects of this piece.

Blomstedt for Sinfonie Singuliere maintained a relatively placid surface throughout, emphasizing very convincingly its unprepossessing qualities. His tempos tended toward spacious, especially for the first movement. What innovation, contrast Berwald achieved writing this piece is something Blomstedt, after so much work with Nielsen and Sibelius, hears as very much internally driven and accomplished. Crescendi on upward gallop of triplets animating much of the first movement were still present, but not underlined like for Dausgaard or given extra boost at all. Such made here an understated case for their harmonic underpinnings.

Blomstedt’s overall rhetoric, infused with simplicity, still came across assured. Flute trill to crest the ascending line of the first theme on first repeat emerged most naturally. Poco stringendo marked stretti ending both Exposition and the movement were firm. Four note brass intimated chorale came across ominously well. From support of building modal melodic patterns into this music, Berwald makes it more interesting than usual to start the Recapitulation from the subdominant (F Major), but Blomstedt declined to overtly point it out - in support of his more mature take on full landscape in view. Interplay of much figuration working throughout was supple and free.

While slightly betraying that this is not their standard repertoire, DSO Berlin strings continued to produce fine warmth for twilit color Adagio while still avoiding excess of vibrato or diffusion. Sequential closing statement to Adagio and its reprise received appreciative feeling for its expansive qualities, harmonization. Mendelssohn-ian elfin grace characterized the extended scherzo middle section, with roughness of edges slightly more smoothed out than ideal, but still with all accenting clear.

Blomstedt ultimately perhaps sold the finale slightly short, but started it off with healthy vigor nevertheless. Berwald bases a rondo episode – only superficially a new theme - on both thematic profile of and accompanying filigree to the first movement’s second theme, very cleverly so. Offbeat accented on purpose awkwardly shaped first theme tends to lean heavily into the subdominant to quite wittily but dramatically get jerked back into vigorously restating it in its home key. Similarly motivated ingenuity, irregularity occurs in Haydn. Experimentation with how tonal centers a whole tone apart interact is likewise provocative. Much optimism, inherent wit was still on display, but sharper profile to still better convey occasional flashes of diabolical wit might have helped well enhance how much Blomstedt had invested in this already.

It was perhaps from sensing little from the outset what was about that early phases following the opening to Bruckner Nine came off perfunctory, matter-of-fact, Strong affirmation opening earlier Bruckner symphonies here gets replaced by doubt, yet through all the chromatic, enharmonic spellings, transitions, there is still something slightly stronger than got restated here. This is so, even if the quality of such is infused by more an existentialist sense than customary for orthodox faith. Transitions framing the main theme of the Exposition lacked what might be sufficient decisive voice leading and mystery, respectively. Blomstedt even chose to openly yet subtly understate the sensuous longing infusing the second theme group, by ever so deftly shaving off the end of opening dotted half notes demarcating its main idea. Underlining of crescendi did not quite convince. Gradually through transition into third theme group did at last Blomstedt let in more air for mystery to envelop it. Sense of weariness with third theme group - though allowing line to just momentarily drift off before recovering it well – was very fine, within context of good line overall.

Development section in the first movement took on better shape, with brass rhetoric right for Bruckner’s increasingly indecisive restatements of chorale statement from earlier. Increasingly incisive shape to transitions inbetween proved solid. Strings, abetted by precise pointing from DSO woodwinds, then began to make something incendiary out of their tremolo and other figuration – smoldering quality underneath coloring all of the Ninth - as left over from blaze that at times engulfs the Eighth. Blomstedt could not fail to make it known. He even very adeptly had his strings here turn on a dime in shifting from laendler accents to making quick reach for fiery opening of the Recapitulation.

Shyness belaboring the Exposition statement of the same made for slightly flaccid accents from the brass upon this arrival. Blomstedt recovered quickly, in even riskily broadening upbeats from his violins, to help steeply mark the ascent to terrible F Minor climax to follow. Brass had it incipient to bring it off all the way, but Blomstedt, seeing ahead, refrained from giving it conventional full blast. Change of fifth in the timpani from low C down to A was really felt, enveloping great weary slow descent from DSO violins. Infusion of winds and brass in voice leading for the second theme recovered for it complete profile. All transition and spelling through third theme group and alternatively weary and fiery coda came off in sterling form.

Bucolic sense to randy, dry toned brass through the scherzo, instead of understating or making sterile its demonic character, enhanced it. DSO Berlin strings were found here to be both incisive and insinuating, with woodwinds precisely imitating their figuration Bomstedt, the first time through an accelerando not ‘imperceptible’ enough (as marked), right before recapitulatory statement of the first theme, made up for it by strongly marking the rustic accents through it, but was less observant at doing so upon its reprise after the tri section.. Still, arrival at cadences was very firm in their intensity. Excellent spring to line in the strings marked a both jaunty and breezy pace through the trio, though a little failure to yield – less bad than with Welser-Most in Cleveland – with line for cellos right past midpoint of this only almost here proved murder for principal flute and other woodwinds. There was ultimately little more in playing quality, interpretation one could have sought than put on display here.

Though excessively broad, less specific in shape than conventionally accepted for broad statement with which strings open the Adagio, it led for aesthetically the most difficult movement of the Ninth to very fine interpretation thereof. Dry brass underpinning of allargando line was very distinctive. It was most of all subtly the underlining with which Blomstedt infused developing both the opening theme and laendler second theme group that likely had to subconsciously influence what one’s perception of this music, of novel way to hear how it is constructed. Blomstedt approached it here – neither insipidly nor undercutting its sonorities, scale, or depth - conceptually as though chamber music. It was here most of all that one got rewarded by some subtle taking of risks.

In context of maintaining a fairly moderate pace, brass were allowed space for beautiful limning of their broken chorale lines off fine climax to the introduction, as to segue in the second theme group. Elegaic shaping of the second theme complemented sound and mindset of how the Adagio opened. Lighter accenting of following thematic consequents was both deft and intimate, but with little tempo contrast from already forward moving pace for the ‘etwas bewegter’ marking the consequents. Blomstedt compensated with excellent pointing of accents to all this. Inter-relation of thematic material of the Adagio started becoming prescient with violins’ gentle reprise of opening statement i through Development opening emotionally agitated B Minor inversion of first theme in trumpets over jagged, arched, heavy strings. Blomstedt maintained an electric current through all this – including the pianissimo trailing off that follows – to laendler infused allargando buildup to temporarily satisfying climax to the opening statement. Consistent with train of thought was subtle enhancement of angularity to second theme group, upon its reprise.

Brief paragraph of descending statement in full-toned strings proved momentary balm upon despondent restating mid-phrase from opening statement in the violins. The humanity of how this spoke was very moving - as though already to foresee the beautiful trailing off of everything at the end. Over almost manically insistent tread of hollow whole-tone intervals in the winds, DSO strings subtly made much of the Tristan-esque longing that segues over to buildup to shattering C-sharp minor climax.. Even with icy quality to string tremolo above oppressive brass, still paramount was the human voice.

Marking of crescendo into dominant seventh of the Neapolitan (F Major, in context of E Major) became intensely febrile. Out of what had started so matter-of-fact with this Bruckner Ninth emerged very much. Yielding winds sweetly cooled off the flame, answered by non-enveloped long weary sigh from the strings, before confident reach into restating the opening of the Bruckner Seventh with which the Ninth closes – with here most sublimely a living current still running through it all. Most sublime here was - this music could never be quite construed as optimistic - a sense of a positive force or moving forward at work, even amidst despair. As with life, it is the context in which we put so very much. Wise seer at hand here, speaking from considerable experience even if mildly shy of definitively was Herbert Blomstedt. As he’d agree, no wiser seer could be found in our midst than the composer Anton Bruckner himself.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

free counters