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, March 22, 2011

DR Kultur: DSO Berlin, Jiri Belohlavek. French, Slavic program. Isabelle Faust, violin. 09.03.11 Philharmonie, Berlin.

Jiri Belohlavek, music director of BBC Symphony Orchestra, chose interesting combination of French and Slavic repertoire for this (presumably return) guest engagement with DSO Berlin. Violinist Isabelle Faust was soloist for rhapsodies by Ravel and Bartok. Belohlavek opened with Ma Mere l’Oye (Mother Goose) Suite by Maurice Ravel, the one altogether non-Slavic work on this program. With the warmth, nuance, color with which Belohlavek infused this, especially from DSO winds, a gentle hint for suggestion of patina from the piano music, opera Vixen from Janacek came to mind – fortunately without distorting Ravel’s rhythms, sound world. The clarity of the playing was such, not to fear comparison with for instance a chillier Pierre Boulez. This proved Belohlavek’s most successful contribution to this program.

Such as for ‘Petit Poucet, some of the slower lyricism in Ravel’s suite tempted from Belohlavek a slight tendency to drag – toward very deftly drawing out much color with just lightly gilding it. Pointing of the chinoserie in ‘Laidronette’ along with piquant, light bird call revealed a like-minded, intimate feel for nature this music – as an aside like that of Janacek - openly invites. Trio led by deep toned bass clarinet brought out the equally deep meditative quality of Ravel’s opening out to the Far East. The self-contained complacency of solo clarinet depicting ‘la belle’ in ‘Belle et la bete’ was ideal, as was by contrast doleful, contra-basson tempting to court her – DSO strings leaning a bit hard for her anxious replies. The dreamy conclusion to this, in helping prepare mood for the opening of ‘Jardin feerique’ was perfect. “Le Jardin feerique’ opened with fine solemnity, at only mildly slack comodo pace – with concertmaster Burkhard Hartog sweetly limning solemnity below with sweet consequents. Belohlavek stepped back to let all with greatest ease sink into fully achieved cadence out of which to build fine calibrated opening out of much splendor to bring this suite to a fine close.

It took until orchestral accompanied second half of Ravel’s Tzigane for violinist Isabelle Faust to show resilience toward achieving good confidence in approaching this piece in place of something more brazen, willful - and then through Bartok to follow, all went well. For first half of Tzigane however, with already apparently sufficient technique to conquer this piece, supporting discretion to back it up went missing. There is purposefully the modernism, stylization to how Tzigane is constructed, that it does not need near so much help as Faust attempted providing, with all the back-phrasing, extra shoving on phrase endings, extra-heavy bow strokes, hint of Bing Crosby or of jazz riff at several junctures, etc. The utter wildness of Ravel’s highly realistic opening – not quite genuinely Magyar as Bartok, but definitely a cut above on genuinely folkloric terms over Vienniese café manner of Liszt or Brahms, got lost.

With DSO Berlin harpist overshadowing Faust on segue in – even with intermittent continuation of pushing not achieved from within, all came much better into focus, for Belohlavek’s grasp of color, genuinely Slavic feel for what more genuinely constitutes ‘gypsy’ Concertato light speed up for refrain in clarinets and horns was spot-on – and in particular other contributions from a still very fine wind section in DSO Berlin. Isabelle Faust in being obsequious, then provided fine collaboration for most of the second half of this, and again remained assured during the Bartok Rhapsody No. 2 to follow.

Orchestral adaptation of the Bartok Second Rhapsdy with its deftly added coloration and shift in emphasis, removes a little of the edge of the wildness of especially the stomping rhythms that constantly propel its ‘Friss’ (second) half. Belohlavek’s feel for it, together with Faust was idiomatic for this setting, the only thing to complain about perhaps being a little further softening of this music’s edge and rhythms. The soulful character of this music, especially for its first half, was never in doubt, and in color, and bowing from orchestra and soloist alike, through constant metamorphosis of step informing the ‘Friss’ and its coloristic implications (piano accompaniment is less skillful in achieving - making it different piece this way) – for instance in passage during ‘Friss’ where soloist combines figuration with harps (prickly by contrast in the piano accompanied version), very deftly handled by all three players. Faust and Hartog combined efforts with, as encore, two Bartok duos (out of the forty-four) fully, confidently in mastery of by turns soulful and earthy savagery of the writing. All was limber from both Faust and Hartog – that simplicity Faust denied the first half of Tzigane was no longer in doubt.

Belohlavek, after interval, selected a relaxed, slightly broadening pace for the first movement to Dvorak’s sunny D Major Symphony (No. 6). Throughout, this was a Sixth conscientious to stress its lyrical aspects, only almost making something comparable to Brahms’s first orchestral serenade thereof – or more to the F Major Symphony preceding it than to perhaps the Sixth itself. For good clarity of line and texture, something can be said for such an approach, but here taking it with just barely adequate light and resonance to infuse both. Some stretches of especially the two outer movements of this symphony perhaps only made it one or two cuts above the pedantry of taking it more commonly the brass-driven bombastic way – such as presented at one of two local conservatories here in Houston fairly recently.

Some brightness for crest of opening theme, ritronelli thereof remained, but Brahms Second derived waltz step to first movement’s second theme needed more lift to clearly raise it above what might comet across flat-line. Reflective cast, coming off this and in attempting to find the right mystery with which to open the Development were good, making it perceptible that Belohlavek might be thinking back to example of Karel Ancerl, but as though curiously mixed in with something approaching a purist bent to it all.

Trumpets and horns brightly exuding fervor near end of the first movement, then after much lingering over both bringing it to a quiet conclusion, they framed opening of the second movement well. Pace for the ongoing Adagio, without being fast, flowed well onward – again after a quite broadly paced first movement. Complementing the overall open-air feel, the light perspective through which dialogue between violins and winds emerged here was refreshing. There are no slow movements in the Dvorak symphonies more beautiful than in both this and the D Minor Seventh Symphony that in fact may mysteriously complement each other in several ways. Exchange of sighs between violins and winds abetted filling all out, while keeping texture warm and light.

Mild sectioning off of oboe duet simple cadential lines came across slightly stodgy as did slightly strict reining in of the brief agitated minor key episode. Easing up from this, making supple re-transition back though was very fine, while introspectively picking up good wistful air to infuse this place. DSO Berlin cellos openly then sang forth this movement’s opening theme - little to encumber the magic of once more encountering this music, its innate pastoral intimacy. Repetitive figure through following Furaint got supplied little lift from internal voicing within, making utter joyousness of this mildly reserved – forthright, but somewhat pedantically so. Extra compensating during yielding line from the violins, while expressive, seemed just that. Extra lift, filling out of main Furiant idea provided good oomph to close out outer sections of this – until slightly pushing much final coda to this scherzo. Piccolo emerged a bit high ad dry during Trio for it waiting past dry, slightly flaccid opening to it to develop fine expressivity.

Streamlined feel for the finale’s opening lines, toward keeping textures supple – DSO winds answering with same idea more characterfully, as also with fine spark they provided this finale’s dance like second theme. For fugato, extension of it both, stiffness from DSO string section prevailed, along with some strain at getting accenting right. Wistful episode of arabesque and yielding quality of re-transition off forthrightly, stiffly realized restatement of opening theme in D Minor provided relief. Achievement of festive ritronelli, recapitulating them, became more assured. Coda to the finale sounded quasi-academic in excessive pointing of accents, then also stodgy in so much leaning on final restatement of opening theme, abetting the impression that Belohlavek may not have fully convinced himself that perhaps this music can speak a little better for itself.

All carping aside, this was a sufficiently characterized, decently played Dvorak Sixth, if hardly at all near a definitive one. Some thinning of the ranks, especially among DSO Berlin strings, injuriously so, has indeed become apparent – issue over which Ingo Metzmacher brought to an end his position with this ensemble. The diffuse acoustics of the Philharmoie do not obscure well what does not quite curry favor within how things get performed there. For how things got played here, Jiri Belohlavek should still be welcome back for at least occasional guest appearances again.

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