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, July 3, 2010

DR Kultur: Beethoven/Bruckner zyklus. Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim. Frank Peter Zimmermann. Second, third installments.

Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Opus 37; Bruckner Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat. Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim. Philharmonie, Berlin - 21.6.10.

Second installment, first picked up here, in series of concerts pairing the six mature Bruckner symphonies with Beethoven concerti started with by turns an affected, pedestrian to often inspiring account of the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto. Pace for first movement was leisurely – soft-edged to gild some of the more forceful accents therein, turning several phlegmatic. Full lean was made into second beat of measure heading into long preparation of half cadence - abetted by singing line from Barenboim in fine cantilena above during solo exposition.- to frame very lyrically played second theme. Barenboim’s rhetorical simplicity in opening the solo part bespoke long experience playing this music. Moderately paced running sixteenths closing out the Exposition were fluent, well animated from within.

Staatskapelle Berlin violins became affected on their leaning anticipation of the Development. Barenboim as soloist started it off lyrically, but then played broken octaves over series of extended well shaped woodwind appoggiaturas one to two dynamic levels above marked, undercutting interest in the crescendo to arise thereof and segue in forceful restatement of the Allegro’s opening measures. Except for slightly tentative ensemble to concludie it, the Recapitulation went much along similar lines as what it restated. Curiously indecisive playing of the cadenza, brought to a secure close, preceded minor mishap during the coda - of which little hay should be made.

Opening of the Larghetto, with hushed reserve on its opening chords just right, got compromised by slurring on the heavy side and also hint of clipping on turn within the opening line. Barenboim made fine bel canto out of lines to follow, though gilding a few among them in manner that could be called Chopin-esque. Suspicion of attempt to put a personal stamp on things extended through making too much crescendo into line that goes high in the right hand at end of the Exposition. Pace then dragged through the quasi fantasia Development, but fortunately Barenboim found more shapely means and better pacing for the rest of the movement to follow, spinning forth beautifully decorated line with greater prudence than earlier. Final fortissimo chord of the Larghetto became allowed to fade away slowly, after spaciously voiced phrasing, to deny its implied effect - attacca at conclusion to segue in the very contrasting rondo finale.

The rondo finale went best here. Barenboim’s statement of mischievous opening theme was such as to be given surreptitiously, to segue in all inherent wit and animation to follow. He then made comment on warm toned clarinet statement of the A-Flat episode with subtly on-a-dime shifts from sublime to caprice. Orchestral fugato went well, followed by well couched slow alternating octaves coming off. Wind chords coming off double statement of the rondo theme (coming off fine solo flourish from Barenboim) sounded as dramatically hieratic as is their wont. Reflective musing on the rondo theme in the Neapolitan (D-Flat Major) led to thoroughly effective dispelling of any potential gloom with rousing dispatch of the entire coda, with certainly tricky head cues from piano bench to keep woodwinds entering well, together with all else.

Theater to be made here happened, fortunately on entirely musical terms, with achieving lofty cathedral heights of the Bruckner Fifth Symphony. Barenboim capitalized upon every opportunity to elucidate every tension threatening the very moorings of edifice in sight while, pardoning only perhaps just one moment of oversight, holding just about the entire structure firm. As good as his somewhat densely reverberant Teldec recording of the Fifth is with the Philharmonic, this performance with his own orchestra exceeded it.

Introduction at clearly forward moving pace began just mildly suspect, a bit dry here including on opening string chorale - with lift provided pizzicati underneath. Dotted rhythms from full orchestra up to brass chorale consequents were both craggy and firm.

The Allegro entered forthright, with good broad shape to cellos’ main theme decorated by Mahlerian accents in high woodwinds. Light but pointedly marked differentiation was acutely made between pizzicato antecedent and legato close descant consequents in way to make the second theme, especially as taken at mild breeze, speak. Fine space was made for gentle moment of repose, reflection in winds and brass before restatement and then motion forward to urgently pressed forward third theme. Shape to arching line in the woodwinds and acutely marking off restive string section off-beats into fiercely driven dotted rhythm stretto and light tremoli descent downward was all secure and firm.

Horn quartet anticipatory toned restatement of the introduction was excellent, pace then only lightly distracted by intermittently loose accenting. Extended Pieta-infused vocalized descant in violins over this restatement was affecting, insistently marked by previous string pizzicato imitating winds. Development of Allegro first theme got heavy going, threatening to be fractious, albeit for Barenboim fully guaranteeing space for all harmonic contrasts to get through and emerge fully in character. Almost exaggeratedly craggy work was made of arduous start to making transition out of so much sturm und drang - rapid and very tense crescendo into pressing forward recapitulation ferocious. With a few similar risks taken, most of them paying off, Staatskapelle Berlin continued to provide thrilling playing through coda, even without all previous tensions built therein resolved. All then blazed forth to conclude this overture/façade - fully dignified stance taken for this first movement maintained to the end.

Double reeds made arched shape of ascetic idea to open the Adagio, taken at moderate pace. Strings offset the winds excellent with their incisive pulsated pizzicato and then riskily making a few loud shifts in their responding lines. Second theme in full bow from violins was highly impassioned, followed by calibration of return to A section being slightly loose, but then fully anchored by strong brass, such flaccid accent here and there to seemingly let what elaborate bolts and joints kept tight breathe. Increasingly jagged writing in the strings then, with all space necessary, became incisively clear. As to lift one’s eyes toward upper arches, cornices of the cathedral, Barenboim provided lift and at least at first imperceptible accelerando through brighter B section toward making all lying above so affirmative. This, in contrast with such ruddy space explored, infused here by so many shadows and even doubt or guilt and pain. Supple line was provided final restatement of A section, all to confirm that all heard thus far had happened by dint of necessity. Strongly anchored, highly imposing melodically dissonant brass interjections then thrust themselves out all on purpose as though to block stirring inexorable motion in the strings forward to the end.

The high level of playing persisted through a more moderately paced scherzo, its cross rhythms and offsetting brass interjections highly driven from within, with just adequate space provided for alternating laendler. With carillon of pressing, marching forward opposing forces in context of fully realized and demarcated scherzo sonata form, one needed a little extra time to catch one’s breath, especially after scherzo’s reprise. Gentler Trio section, intruded upon by deeply bronzed brass chords, provided relief, but that seemed fleeting, even meager by scherzo’s end. Even so, rusticity to accents in the brass and from elsewhere, to beneficially contrast with the practically demonic quality to how driven all encountered here came across, reassured so full a view of humanity to remain in sight – as part of perspective to breathe life into as much a gauntlet of a Bruckner scherzo as any. More so it is than any earlier scherzo, as here got spurred on by hard dig into cellos and basses toward furious conclusion.

The finale started off forthright, not rushed, all the way through Mahler accents from principal clarinet. For lower strings however to dig in so hard on quasi-fugue start to the Exposition, though marked fortissimo, raised doubts – and sounding so much ‘in the moment’, it doubtful the aim could have been deconstructionist. Consulting the Salzburg broadcast under Furtwangler revealed deeply intoned weight given to accenting the very same subject. Thought of what had happened here only devalued little an overall fine performance. Following lines clearly and cumulatively ascended well to fine apex - fine space provided for well limned lighter second theme, even to reflectively expand out for brief episode taking in further distant tertiary harmonic relationships, all paced with gentle propulsion forward. Taken at a driving Allegro, Barenboim avoided enveloping forceful brass interlude (closing idea) - also making for supple trailing off to start of the mostly fugal Development section, that began darkly with fine anticipatory sense of what would follow. Most impressive during fugue was its fleet, supple working out concertato wise without loss to sense of scale or of its architectonics.

How Barenboim had started the Exposition then made in effect understated crest of line at sempre triple forte – quickly achieved from already forceful start to the Recapitulation. It then hardly at all did for glorious, blazing dark hued double brass chorale conclusion - all lights on cathedral wide at Philharmonie to which all - every remaining contrast reckoned fully characterized - inexorably led.

Beethoven Violin Concerto in D, Opus 61; Bruckner Symphony No. 6 in A. Frank Peter Zimmermann, Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim. Philharmonie, Berlin - 22.06.10.

Formal, intertwined harmonic subtleties with many forays into the Neapolitan building neighboring parentheses to tonic and dominant key areas (thereby building relationships at the tritone) deeply infuse the language, structure of the Bruckner Sixth. Thought behind this was to become more elaborate, subtle in the Eighth and Ninth. Pastoral repose and tranquility, feeling of open space roaming about mountainous valleys remain intact. In no way then, intellectualized or otherwise, is drama of traversing any neighboring terrain or reflection upon such undercut.

The finale to the Sixth began the most assuredly of any movement here. Barenboim caught very well the surreptitious groping downward in the strings, broken by sharp brass interjections. Reach for first theme group closing fortissimo tutti capably took on heroic proportions. Paraphrasing Robert Simpson’s comments on the Sixth (in The Essence of Bruckner) - with Bruckner’s eschewal of gratuitously elaborate or decorative surfaces in the Sixth - is the following. What drama should be played out and is better exposed in the finale than earlier must be calibrated that overall dramatic momentum can pass through numerous well marked empty spaces unimpeded overall. Simpson has also well pointed out one or two compositional lapses that can create issues for the interpreter.

Barenboim, able to keenly observe all at stake, perhaps however in sweep of the moment passed up several signposts, warnings along the way. His doing so did not kill his efforts, but did make seem slightly confused Bruckner’s grasp of structure. Much as this finale anticipates the finale to the Eighth, we have only yet come most of the way.
Where things got slippery here for Barenboim was within his ‘in the moment’ approach to rely somewhat on accelerandi to keep things stirred up – even in getting past what hinted a little excessively, too lightly at one near end of the Exposition – place one suspects is there for the unwary on the podium (rare weak spot in the Sixth). Doing so spurred on even further ignoring composer’s forebodings, doing so - as things twice even quite well careened closer to the finale’s conclusion. For closing phrases of the Exposition, Bruckner’s indication of allargando for lines in lower brass beneath obsessive repeat of upbeat dotted figures in the winds got submerged as usual.

Similar perseverative activity on upper winds as consequents to cello section reprise of opening theme in the upper winds then became too underlined, starting the Development. Strenuous arrival at A Major that does in effect storm the door down got in with less than absolute sureness of footing, with messy articulation from Staatskapelle Berlin strings over rapid sixteenths and stodgy cadence achieved at tritone.

Cause here was far from lost however. Expansive, loving handling of second theme and its often unique placement within harmonic scheme of things was secure; pristine sense of air around lines for the strings hovered above, as though something caught aloft, as should be. Same went into framing lovely brief paragraph of first theme inversion right in cellos under benedictory violin section descant as extended segue into sturm und drang of the Development. Brass utterances were always secure, marking dramatic argument of one of the most unique among Bruckner’s finales, albeit for a few demarcation lines remaining fuzzy, thus inquisitive character of this music too extended.

Cumulative sense of where this music is headed got mildly impaired with opening of the first movement, of plentiful contrasting gesture and rhetoric. Development of second theme grew more confident as it proceeded, with fine limning of descant, consequent through Tyrolean vista and eventually through repeat note trumpet fanfares for blazing tutti near end of the Exposition, albeit for stodgy brass handling of rhythms. Octave in place of at-fifth inversion of first theme passionately carried sense of air off steep slopes, central to what is mostly a retransition in place of Development. In terms of follow-through such inversion made cumulatively still more sense as pensively restated toward final build-up to a blazing conclusion to a prudently paced, sonically well crafted first movement of confidently venturesome ambition.

Barenboim then, to paraphrase Klemperer’s de-sentimentalized stance on Bruckner’s music, understated less well defined than friend and predecessor the broad contours of the Sixth’s lovely Adagio by taking it slightly too fast. Through such restive atmosphere, one could hear in dark yearning from the violins intimation of something from the composer’s F Minor Mass the Second Symphony directly quotes. Even however for the expanding out second theme, things - as also for Klemperer - sounded reticent, but expanded out better more freely upon their recapitulation. The inward quality of this music has me disagree slightly with Simpson, his advice for expanding out as much as (reasonably) possible - as courting danger especially today of anyone going beyond that.

Coitege step at minor key dominant was very precise - firm marking of soft timpani beats underneath - but through environment in which now more overt refrain is made to intimate line out of the F Minor Mass - things anticipating such a reference hurried here. Barenboim made intimate musing of broad closing section to the Adagio, something within all context of which he preferred held in check.

Purposefully rocky assessment was made of the Sixth’s unique scherzo – riskily at what sounded momentarily like real contention between strings and brass. Some of this emerged a little more arched than genuinely felt, but craggy profile for this music stayed intact. Strings and brass in reply to one another, with beautiful pointing of violin pizzicato made warm, yet searching repose of the Trio. Here overall was an at once pensively reticent, but inquiring take on the Sixth, with playing from Staatskapelle Berlin that sounded mildly on a breather from taking on such as the Fifth the night before; one would anticipate better success with it on stand-alone - further apart from the craggy peaks of especially the Fifth and the Eighth that for this series surrounded it.

After taking openly confident stance on the Bruckner Fifth, making the most too of its dark nooks and crannies, of what they represent, something of how Barenboim went about the Sixth, partly nature of the music itself, ran him slightly aground. Similar lift to this work with which Barenboim has succeeded well before only made it halfway this time around. As this more internalized, unprepossessing, but structurally enigmatic piece presents itself, it is in the pastoral character of so much therein, remindful of still seldom played F Major string quintet Bruckner wrote near the same time, from which the Sixth developed much of its persona. This being orchestral, its darker underpinnings, interjections make stronger presence felt than can happen in chamber music; the air both these pieces breathe though is indeed similar.

Portentously rhetorical accenting from Barenboim made confusing phrasing of ritornelli through opening movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, though with welcome searching quality for turn to minore during the lyrical second theme. With light vibrato Frank Peter Zimmermann limned his lines with poetically classical grace and poise, flexible and light too on his runs up broken octaves. He then played even, minimally shaped obbligato to Barenboim’s streamlined handling of closing theme to the Exposition. Orchestral stodginess persisted until winds got reprise of the second theme, but especially riveting was Zimmermann marking change of color into B Minor with fine support from bassoons, then circumspectly showing deep feeling from within for cantilena in G Minor to follow.

Staatskapelle then sounded conventionally get-on-with-it on ascending broken octave runs from his strings - nothing to faze Zimmermann, who matched such drive with ease, and then made halo out of light portamenti to ornament the second theme. Even if cadenza lapsed intermittently into some matter-of-fact playing, Zimmernann’s first movement here was long on poetry, short on what anyone would ever call mundane.

Reasonably moderate pace was set for the Larghetto Apart from mild intrusion of a little arch tone occasionally from Zimmermann, and streamlining of one or two variations, soloist and maestro with ease came closer together here and brought unity of flowing line and the Larghetto’s aura of tranquility into focus. Zimmermann found especially individual shape to closing phrases here, anticipating well transition into the rondo-finale.

With good lift, feel of open air, bounce to it Zimmermann and Barenboim became then entriely as one for large majority of the rondo, with only possible exception being a hard push on transition back into main section thereof. This followed an expressively played fine bassoon solo extending into gentle consequents within still febrile line from Zimmermann through plaintive G Minor middle section. Interplay to follow between back and forth snatches of rondo theme, development thereof was such of which both Zimmermann and Barenboim made vigorous aplomb – along then with ascending, descending spiccato arpeggios and rondo theme in rapid double stop offbeat marked sixteenths from Zimmermann. Sweetly engaged reprise of rondo theme - remotely in A-Flat Major - helped close such a highly welcome visit from him.

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