Posts Tagged ‘Bamberger Symphoniker’

Blomstedt’s Lucid Bruckner

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

Passau Cathedral in Bavaria

Published: July 29, 2017

PASSAU — What more heavenly way to mark your 90th birthday than conducting a favorite symphony in four cathedrals on four successive nights, and with an orchestra that adores you? This, at least, was Herbert Blomstedt’s thinking, amenably realized by the Bamberger Symphoniker — in Bamberg’s Dom St Peter und St Georg July 19, Würzburg’s St-Kilians-Dom July 20, Passau’s Dom St Stephan July 21, and, aptly in this case jumping from Bavaria to Austria July 22, the Stiftsbasilika St Florian. On the stands: Bruckner’s Fifth, his Fantastische, a work that climaxes only in conclusion.

Blomstedt wore a beatific smile here as he gently yet cohesively propelled the players through the 75- to 80-minute score, applying a number of firm accelerations (to clock in at the fast end of that range). Occasionally he requested less sound, from his chair on his podium on a tube-and-clamp orchestra platform far below Dom St Stephan’s emphatic white moldings and rich Carpoforo Tencalla frescos. Cathedral acoustics had their various effects: here was “staccato with resonance,” in Jochum’s phrase; here, too, pizzicato without exactness, quite a drawback in this symphony.

The cohesion lay of course in the counterpoint: not everyone’s strong suit but certainly Blomstedt’s. So the grand musical edifice stood straight and its sections and parts sounded and ended exactly where they needed to. Light shone into the music, much as it streamed through Carlo Lurago’s transom windows. Ideas flowed in long breaths. There was no leaning on particular notes, no pushing for effect by the Bambergers. Blomstedt presented a rational and questioning, ultimately peaceful, encounter with this magnificent score, keeping volume in reserve for its late peroration. Even there, from where the Finale’s two fugues sound together in the brass (after the double fugue) and the horns lastly restate the first-movement theme, no one blasted. Balances had been set, and the American-born maestro could cue without visible effort players he has known for decades, his back to a capacity crowd.

The Passau performance took place as part of European Weeks, in another American connection. This was the first festival founded in postwar Germany, in 1952, when the U.S. 7th Army Symphony Orchestra served in the pit for Le nozze di Figaro starring Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender and “We Demand the United States of Europe” served as marketing slogan. The 65th European Weeks was as busy as any before.

Home to Europe’s largest cathedral organ, Dom St Stephan splendidly models the Italian Baroque. Along with Lurago and Tencalla, designer Giovanni Battista Carlone produced its dramas of contrast: stucco against frescos, daylight against shadows, plain verticals against the ovalled, vaulted ceiling. Outside, meanwhile, three rivers calmly meet: the charcoal-colored Ilz from the Bavarian Forest, the milky-aqua Inn from St Moritz via Innsbruck, and, in between, the coffee-colored Danube from the Black Forest. (Munich’s Isar and Salzburg’s Salzach are upstream tributaries.) The main stem takes the Danube name although the Inn has been the trunk flow, and the coffee color prevails as it enters Austria two kilometers down.

Photo © Diözese Passau

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Carydis Woos Bamberg

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Constantinos Carydis

Published: January 4, 2015

BAMBERG — When the Bamberger Symphoniker replaces its Chefdirigent next year, it could do worse than hiring Constantinos Carydis. The intense but discreet Athenian secured creative and technically superb playing in a Nordic and Impressionist program Nov. 29 here at the Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, confirming skills he has shown in Munich.

Choosing won’t be easy, and there is a preliminary question for this conservative north Bavarian town. Artistry or stability? Bamberg has enjoyed plenty of the latter in incumbent Jonathan Nott, who began in 2000. But unique interpretive approaches are another matter. The Lamborghini-driving British conductor has not forged a strong international profile for the orchestra — Edinburgh performances in 2011, for instance, lacked insight and vigor — and the claim of an “audible leap in quality” under his leadership versus the standards of predecessors Keilberth, Eugen Jochum and Horst Stein is hard to accept.

The job has attractions, not least the direct backing of the orchestra by the Free State of Bavaria, which encourages its deep tradition of touring. (Formed by German musicians expelled from Czechoslovakia, the Bamberger Symphoniker has given 6,500 concerts in 500 cities and still performs mostly away from home.) State broadcaster BR records the ensemble’s work and a few years ago the state helped pay for sound tweaks by Yasuhisa Toyota to its 1,380-seat hall. Built in 1993 with cheap materials and named after Bamberg’s grumpy first Chefdirigent, who held the post from 1950 to 1968, the Joseph-Keilberth-Saal sits on the Regnitz River below a onetime monastery. It probably is “Bavaria’s best concert hall” (another claim) if only because Nuremberg and Munich are so deficient in this regard. The sound is warm, balanced and natural, though high frequencies project relatively feebly.

Carydis, 40, definitely not to be confused with his vain compatriot Teodor Currentzis, 42, will be unlike anyone else the orchestra is considering and may or may not fit Bamberg’s concept of “maestro.” He is selective in the projects he takes on, i.e. not known for a heavy workload. For this debut he was without a jacket and looked disheveled. When in 2011 he was somewhat distressingly handed the Carlos Kleiber Prize — established on Kleiber’s 80th birthday and awarded only once to date, to Carydis — he disappeared for a year’s sabbatical. Not surprisingly he has never held a major music directorship and it is unclear whether he could commit to the scope of such a job. On the other hand, all that he does turns to musical gold. He is highly imaginative and perceptive, meticulous in preparation, equally accomplished in opera and symphonic music, adept in scores by such dissimilar composers as Shostakovich, Falla, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mozart and Offenbach. He is admired where he is best known, in Munich: tomorrow he will conduct a Brahms and Debussy concert, later this month a run of Don Giovanni, and during this summer’s Opernfestspiele a new staging of Pelléas et Mélisande.

This Bamberg concert followed runouts of the same program the previous two evenings in nearby Erlangen and Schweinfurt, part of the orchestra’s duty as a state ensemble. Refinement in the playing, no doubt lifted by repetition, came across immediately in Sibelius’s brute tone poem Tapiola (1926). The conductor reveled in its mostly quiet dynamics, lavishing attention on the woodwinds and propelling its long lines. Loud passages had considerable impact and the sense of purpose never flagged, though tension at times gave way to deathly stillness. In Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894), which followed, Carydis appeared to let flutist Daniela Koch pace and shape the music. She practiced the virtue of playing gently all through the concert, so that her instrument always sounded exquisite; in the Debussy she was guilefully supported by her woodwind colleagues and flattered by the satiny strings, but at its end it was the conductor’s collaboration she went out of her way to acknowledge.

Nielsen’s brooding nine-minute pastorale for orchestra Pan og Syrinx (1918) opened the second half of the concert as a preamble to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suites 1 and 2 (1911 and 1913). Like the Ravel, it relies on a sensuous string sound but places the interest in the woodwinds (clarinet and cor anglais personify the protagonists); agitated outbursts prop up the longer ruminative material. The Bamberg musicians achieved delicacy and much expressive character here, and in the Ravel, always with attention to mood. Carydis permitted no applause before Ravel’s opening Nocturne and looked irked that the Danse guerrière — brilliantly controlled, indeed electrifying — caused an eruption of applause before he could proceed into the Second Suite.

No decision date has been publicly set for the Bamberg appointment (in contrast to the Berlin Philharmonic job, for which a successor to a different Briton will be named in May, to start in 2018 after an equal 16-year tenure). If the new chief on the Regnitz can artistically stretch the musicians, as Carydis did on this visit, he or she will have been better chosen than any long-staying routinier.

Photo © Thomas Brill

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