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.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

DR Kultur: DSO Berlin - Tame Sacre du printemps blots Tugan Sokhiev MD designate debut. Piotr Anderszewski, soloist. 26.11.10. Philharmonie, Berlin.

This marked Tugan Sokhiev’s debut as music director designate of DSO Berlin. Most prominent here wasa work Ingo Metzmacher also did his first season – out of his three with DSO – Le Sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinsky. Sokhiev, originally from Ossetia, just like his mentor Valery Gergiev, and continuing a little while longer as Orchestre Capitole de Toulouse’s conductor, is said to have close to decade long relationship with DSO Berlin as guest conductor. He also replaced Zubin Mehta on short notice during the Vienna Philharmonic’s fall 2009 Asia tour. More than I could have known, he has been serious contender to take Metzmacher’s place for months now – since Metzmacher suddenly announced resigning from DSO Berlin in March of 2009.

Musical qualities to Sokhiev’s work have surfaced – most notably on a Dvorak and Tchaikovsky program he conducted with the orchestra last season – and also for some of this program as well. He has an ear for the lyricism of the music he conducts, a decent ear for balances, yet there are other elements that perhaps are still lacking for position carrying the prestige of having been founded by Ferenc Fricsay.

This program opened with the Roman Carnival Overture of Berlioz. Benevenuto Cellini’s romance to Therese – here sung by English horn – received lovely warmth, ardor, and shape. Once bacchanale – choral during the opera (conducted by Gergiev at Salzburg recently) – began, spiritedly here, some flaccidity however in getting the shape of its tune and rhythms began to creep into the strings of DSO Berlin. In order to compensate for the lapse, urgent push forward gradually then surfaced. Such eventually left woodwinds slightly off ensemble wise, and then violins sounding strained, forced. Risk also began to emerge of conducting slightly ahead of the beat. Even with all carping above, all still ventured forth in a spirited manner and on reasonably secure footing.

Piotr Andrszewski proved consistently fine soloist for the Bartok Third Piano Concerto. The folk-like simplicity, earthy accents, engaged rumination over mystery infusing this music all got matched with limpid Mozartean line, plus secure engagement of quasi-Lisztian virtuosity some of the way therein. He was also very keen on listening to all going on about him as keen to accurately interact with such toward achieving optimum results for all. Sokhiev proved supportive, but one has to reckon tentatively so. The hushed mystery opening Adagio religioso from strings of DSO Berlin he assisted in making rapt and middle section of antiphonal bird call between soloist and solo winds in DSO Berlin had all color, piquancy, echo to resonate very effectively.

DSO Berlin strings sounded slightly thin, tentative at outset of the first movement – but with good sense of pulsation underneath evident – Andreszewski playing his opening bird-song lines with singing tone and deftly applied color – consistent from him with much to follow here. Making glib Bartok’s excellent rhythmic shape to opening lines, DSO Berlin strings made something curiously flat-line of their opening tutti – DSO winds then soggy toward sufficiently being able to color their lines. Andrswzewski continued unencumbered – then with good attempt to assist him from woodwinds – into shaping sprightly second theme with excellent brightness and lift.

Winds then dragged unison allargando line into the Development – canon between Anderszewski and them to follow belabored by tentative beat from Sokhiev. – but with all finally coming together well for quietly haunting segue into the Recapitulation. Qualities that dragged down earlier passages resurfaced again, but concertato winds with Anderszewski on the second theme lightly fed off the nuance he provided them and all eventually came to a light, heady close with Anderszweski deferentially accompanying solo flute. The rarefied, transfigured quality of how the ‘leave-taking’ Adagio religioso opened was again special here. Anderswzweski settled for playing forte as marked anguished chord progressions in the first A section of this, but strings as leaning on similar during return thereof lacked such perfect subtlety., followed by good despondency in making forceful response from Anderszweski, then to help bring all to, very rapt, a peaceful close.

PIotr Anderszewski proved most useful, in marking accents right to keep motion, pulsation flowing right, all calibrated as well as possible through the vigorous finale, different episodes thereof – albeit with first A section fugato more in Sokheiv’s hands than that of the soloist for most of it. Prredictably results were approximate, followed by clotting of matters toward its conclusion. After further muddying of several passages, awkward accenting of the last page of this, tricky in its own right, almost threw Anderszewski off, but all held on sufficiently to a completely vigorous send-off of the end of the concerto. Anderszweski always remained confidently engaged with in both the vigor and often also playful wit of this music.

Memories float back of hearing Helene Grimaud play Bartok Third with Metzmacher and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra – Grimaud who can be colloquial bull in the china shop on Schumann, Chopin, Ravel, even Rachmaninoff, but with the SFSO playing at previous DSO Berlin levels, all crisp, rapt, lightly intense through entire duration of this fine performance – Bartok Third that Grimaud had recorded already with Pierre Boulez.

If one accepts Rite of Spring as concert tone poem, nothing to offend then about how Tugan Sokhiev approached it. However, some listeners still reckon it deserves better. Consistent with making it mere showpiece, this was equally as tame as many performances of Rite arrive these days. Simplicity here felt put aside right away with a heavily nuanced opening principal bassoon solo. With careful anticipation of bar lines and getting mildly stuck on brief concertato of flues and English horn - things waited until right before ‘Augures de printemps’ to sufficiently gather steam. Adequately pulsated streamlined grip on proceedings took over from there. Excess legato from brass and several faulty entrances from winds apart, a secure grip on matters at last manifested itself. “Jeu de rapt’, featuring excellent rapid tonguing from flutes, gradually got weighed down by soggy accents.

Introduction and then climax and brass interjections to ‘Spring Rounds’ got underlined, smoothed out – remindful of a young Semyon Bychkov Woodwind descant first well limned fine steady pulsation underneath to get the main section underway. Reprise of intro was better - following odd pause inserted before rapid stretto coda to ‘Rondes’. Similarly gilded allargando defanged the opening to ‘Jeux des cites rivales.’ Marked grace note upbeats on woodwind got clipped and a few thereof misplaced; streamlined was the rest with which for Sage to make grand entrance. It took a good ten seconds for Danse de la terre - eventually tamed by numerous carefully anticipated downbeats and flat landing, rhythmically - to help weakly conclude Part One.

Shape altogether got abandoned for much savoring of texture, sonority for just about entire Introduction to Part Two – garden variety gilding of strings and horns amidst muted trumpet duo episode sup-par as usual here. Jansons on Concertgebouw live disc proved slightly more competent surface wise, but similarly insipid here. When will such Karajan-esque flaccidity – upon which Bychkov predictably picked up so well early on – be abandoned on this music for good? Perhaps good for it to remain around for shock occasional good performance of Rite will still provide. After DSO strings playing flat and dull entry to ‘Cercles mysterieux’, principal flute and clarinet led the ‘piu mosso’ therein well – compromise then to resurface for how all the first half to Part Two ended.

The great practically Tennessee Ernie Ford (I almost typed ‘Tennessee Williams’) style hitch to the git-along – as I put it - that a dismayed Stravinsky discovered from Karajan took over for Glorification de l’elue ‘, Sokhiev letting all go for it to risibly take on a life of its own for return of main section thereof. Semaphoring between brass and strings for ‘Evocation’ also sounded eccentric. ‘Action rituelle’ emerged fussy, indecisive, with silly curlicue to woodwind cut-offs, funny streamlined clipping of upper violin ostinati and then of brief episode of antiphonal gesture between winds/brass and strings. Only the climax to this truly significant portion evinced some genuine savagery – or real mystery.

“Danse sacrale’ started off promisingly, then for cross-accents between especially strings and timpani to start throwing Sokhiev off. Strings became phlegmatic, starting its main section. Sokhiev avoided overdoing slurring on slow stretto concluding first repeat of how main section opens – partly to compensate for damp accenting of strings attempting to forcefully begin the written out first repeat. Gilding of violins and flutes helped Sokhiev prepare carefully negotiating cross-rhythms opening extended coda. Underlined, gilded (!) rip up solo trombone very risibly ushered in final twenty-two measure loud sustained ritornello for the entire ballet. Sokhiev, trying to recover being incisive, scrupulized the codetta to ‘Danse sacrale’ - bass drum imitating timpani getting lost - all toward making a whimper of concluding Rite. Sokhiev has some invested spirit, musicality for this, intermittent bad use of judgment aside; like numerous others, some just only complacent, he lacks the sufficient technique - that is, on any major podium.

Metzmacher is still clearly the aesthetician with Rite, similar to Fricsay – very similarly with the London Symphony on this piece eight years ago. By his first season with DSO Berlin, he had developed a more individual voice for “Le Sacre’ and thus on his precise terms, the simplicity and pervasive primitivism of this score came across very alive and fresh – even leaving Fricsay slightly behind in several episodes. The new lift – while feeling slightly stifled for air – to reprise of main section to ‘Glorification de l’elue; was most arresting to the ear; equally heart-stopping was the quiet, very precisely pulsated ‘Action rituelle’, followed by a fraught ‘Danse sacrale’ – equally so to how ‘Glorification’, its main section had resumed earlier.

Piotr Anderszewski followed the Bartok Third Concerto out of which he had very confidently made chamber music with - as encore - Three Hungarian Folksongs from Csik (Sz 35). Slightly different from softer touch, rhythmically more delicate turns of phrase expected from a Hungarian pianist quickly became evident. Andeszewski slightly off-center interpretatively, drew out of the first two, slower portions of this a richly colored texture, illuminating the filigree written therein with rich overtones. Dynamics for such intensely lyrical playing may have gotten raised a notch. Gain in perspective was still had from everything through carillon style ringing tone on arpeggio chords for brief jubilation rounding out a most distinctive showing here.

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