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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

DR Kultur - DSO Berlin. Christoph Eschenbach returns for generous, but heavy, effete Tchaikovsky fare. 12.12.10. Philharmonie, Berlin.

Christoph Eschenbach his one occasion to conduct DSO Berlin this season accumulated luxurious amount of Tchaikovsky – 105 minutes worth comprising two most celebrated among handful of fantasy-overtures, plus two of three more famous from among six concerto works. Those familiar with Eschenbach’s Tchaikovsky can find it an interesting hybrid of conflicting tendencies.

There is striving for the big arch to the line along lines of Furtwaengler. This often gets mixed with control of sonority - zeroed in on to extent of turning rigid. Mixed in can be numerous finicky touches, underlining – such he might have learned from watching Leonard Bernstein. John Ardoin of the Dallas Morning News close to time Eschenbach accepted the Houston job described his approach to Romantic Slavic program with the Dallas SO that also included Francesca as calcifying.

Romeo and Juliet Overture opened – to altogether indeed best represent Eschenbach still being able to understate some of the above. Much of the playing here maintained a natural expressivity and flow that if not stirring was pleasant. Friar Laurence music opened with stately solemnity – with distension of reaching harp gilded cadences a little more than usual. Measured but throbbing phrasing in the cellos provoked extended pause before fight episode got underway - slightly too careful by half Fight here was tame., with brass dry, strings hardly more flaccid than usual. Much ado resumed over transition through bassoon, other obbligato into the balcony music.

Violins emerged sweetly luminous; winds sang main romantic theme with ease – all only encumbered by percussive touch mediocre harp playing – whoever insisted such accompanying communicate this way. Impressive for Eschenbach was starting reprise of fight music without enveloping it, but much rhetoric was made in making transition in and out of the love music for further skirmish. Only the coda then deflated matters, with excessive extension made out of so much, placement of chords right before its outset indecisive and winds’ refulgent chorale heaved over, massaged – just again a little more so than usual. Much got reached from behind for closing phrases – tone, expression of regret to it all garden variety expressing wish to last forever, but through following deflated chords of course could not.

The model for conductor’s interpretation here of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto - less that of soloist - is undoubtedly the Karajan legacy of conducting this piece. Karajan might not have anticipated lily gilded arpeggios accompanying the first theme (that really is not but what only survives introduction to first movement intact) consistent oddly with how the passage first got first written. What came across from Karajan individual continues to from Eschenbach willful, eccentric. Karajan was likely most smoothly effective with this on disc when Lazar Berman recorded it for DGG in Berlin circa 1975.

Karajan most likely had most distinctive on disc as soloist Sviatoslav Richter with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra fifteen years earlier. Richter accomplishes as much his own interpretation best heard with Czech Philharmonic conducted by Karel Ancerl (Supraphon). What sank this endeavor here was - brutally evident starting scherzo-like opening of the Exposition - the very brittle touch of Tzimon Barto – dotted rhythms awkwardly clipped in context of much slow pacing here. Restatement in rapidly alternating octaves was messy – to resume similarly much later.

DSO Berlin strings phrased ardent second theme naturally, but Barto by back-phrasing made it sound suitable to hear in a comfy smoking lounge. More editorializing to point of being silly recapitulated it later. Normal tempo then resumed for cellos on the simple flute theme expected. Barto pointed developing arpeggios through resumption of main second theme with considerable ping – with loud crunching thud on lowest chord while playing development thereof. Coming off athletically prefigured chains of descending octaves, answering willful detached speed-up to highlight the display, massage treatment got predictably underway to continue the Development. Barto’s final extensions out of second theme almost grounded it to a standstill – followed soon thereafter by heavily regrouped cadenza – with flute trios, Barto accompanying strings on ‘flute theme’ regrouped and messy, followed by Barto making heavily phlegmatic reach, picked up too this way by DSO brass - for final tutti.

Prinicpal flute Thomas Hecker put forth valiant effort to avoid line sagging – following one of the (erratically) slowest first movements on record – over string pizzicato (helping prepare Barto) lacking pulsation to extent of registering aleatoric. Ah, deconstructionism. Barto and Eschenbach half deceptively made interpretation of the first movement seem more soloist’s than maestro’s, but Barto achieved his first musical phrasing of the evening, starting the second movement – still all moving slowly. Andreas Grunkorn (cello) sustained eloquently singing the main theme – within such obtrusive environment. Scherzo episode, taken moderately instead of fast got heavily fussed over to full extent– brittleness from Barto again paramount – until freely descending arpeggi back into oboe resuming main theme more fussed over than as previously heard.

Barto perceptively caught the peasant character to dance opening the finale – Eschenbach scrupulizing right beneath. Barto emerged more naturally engaged for music to speak for itself than earlier - than having to endure continual fussiness from the podium – mediocre tentative ensemble through winds accompanying his runs. Barto, intermittently also getting waylaid into fussy playing - clipping main theme to breathe new urgency into proceedings at one point – later shed all reserve for show of naked athleticism with ugly tone over stream of octaves - into final full-throated reprise of romantic second theme.

Thirty year old cellist Dmitri Maslennikov, who Eschenbach has clearly enjoyed promoting for some time now, appeared next. Among three thus far playing Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations reviewed on these pages, Maslennikov elicited the most fully rounded tone– especially as compared with Steven Isserlis. He made noble profile of the theme, then light, sprightly his bounce of bow over triplets for first variation. Eschenbach, self-consciously hesitant for segue in(to) the rhapsodic third variation and abetting Maslennikov to make gratuitous spotlighting of rapid spiccato scales up and down the fingerboard in variation right after, maintained decent poise and support for his soloist through most of the remainder of this piece. Maslennikov, unencumbered, provided flowing line, near ideal simplicity through the slower third variation, but got abetted into excessively arching ascending trills into flute led theme reprise making up the fifth variation. A valiantly engaged unusually extended cadenza followed - entirely new or slightly more likely one just seldom these days taken on by anybody else.

Opportunities to arpeggio in half-harmonics, other device enticed Maslennikov again into becoming while freely capable, gratuitous with such. He then settled into making noble shape, restrained pathos of the slower D Minor variation – with much lingering over the accompaniment at a few spots from Eschenbach. Once into finale to the variations, Maslennikov then efficiently but also expressively coasted, played through it, hardly missing anything. Most memorable here was the well rounded tone and profile Maslennikov provided this piece, especially when no artifice in the way to distract him.

Francesca da Rimini succumbed to sounding careful – often compartmentalized in ways one might not have suspected before, except to have listened to either one of Eschenbach’s two recordings – actually on first disc he ever recorded in Houston (paired with Dvorak Ninth). DSO Berlin became most prudent to avoid covering up too much the strings on main agitated theme (hopefully) driving this music forward for its outer sections. Trumpets especially applied good separations to repeated notes – of which John DeWitt & Co in Houston were not fluent at doing when they recorded this. Eschenbach was found - tendency one wishes he could have abandoned long by now.- conducting DSO’s fine principal clarinet introducing romantic middle section theme

Opening Andante lugubre to this came across dry, mildly clipped, antiseptic. Things were slow, became deliberate at gathering steam, with odd siphoning off different sections of DSO Berlin from each other playing and attempting to reply to one another. First Piu mosso during the Introduction – put there to abet hellish winds accumulating amongst the strings – became barely noticeable. Eschenbach put his own subito piu mosso during sighing dyads making way into flute trios during the middle section – making such transition come across silly, mildly petulant this way. Fussiness over light gusts of wind between strings and woodwinds during first buildup to main theme turned the figuration into practically aural equivalent to watching protozoa swim about on slides under microscope – with DSO Berlin strings sounding nearly as thin as Houston’s, … i.e. how about Hans Neuenfels choreography for Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini?

Eschenbach again vehemently confused loudness for passion – hard at any rate to work up at his tempos. It is as though we might gain insight by having most of this piece taken apart to expose all its inner layers – except for their becoming often so muddied - so much found dying underneath in the mean time. The band-y cheap approximation of operatic overture accelerando at the very end, also ending this concert, did not convince. Vehemently loud slash of wind introducing restart of violent main section of this – unmistakable what it is on the live LSO/Markevitch disc from BBC – is such for which Eschenbach made such luftpausen’d reach - it resembled letting off … instead - quiet brief mourning then from good lower DSO brass.

Eschenbach had just convincingly worked up some heat, then overdoing it for final entrance of middle section theme in the violins only to sink everything by docking single pitches on DSO brass loudly as idea broadly siphons itself off - dead. Long delay had been made earlier through regretful sounding English horn commenting on pleasurable guilt of the two lovers, answered by well played harp arpeggios – but with both unsure of where to make cut-offs on back and forth exchange. Descending sunlight from flute trios playing repeat-chord (C Major) tremolo seemed to take very long to arrive.

Should your idea of Francesca da Rimini be one entirely physically disengaged from action Tchaikovsky graphically describes, Christoph Eschenbach is your man, forever likely shall be. I suppose one could get all absorbed too by standing all day in a Cy Twombly gallery to attempt engaging with the forces of nature, how they intermix with human passion. You just have to ask yourself – how much would you talk yourself into it?

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At February 21, 2011 at 11:07 PM , Blogger David S said...

Something I'd like to see happen is for DGG to reissue onto CD some Eschenbach from the past - such as maybe on a twofer or three disc set together with some other stuff - Beethoven's PC 3 with Henze and the London SO, the Henze Second Piano Concerto (London PO, Henze) - masterpiece as fusion of Brahmsian writing, freely applied serialism and Schubert D 959, maybe a couple of late Beethoven sonatas as well or something along those lines.


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