Posts Tagged ‘Berio’

Nézet-Séguin performs Epic Romance with the Berlin Philharmonic

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

By Rebecca Schmid

Conducting the Berlin Philharmonic is no small feat for a 37-year-old, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin—returning to the orchestra’s podium for the first time since his 2010 debut—had no intention to the make the event a small affair. The newly minted music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, seen at the Philharmonie on June 16, juxtaposed Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture with the full three movements of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé as sung by the Rundfunkchor Berlin. It took Ravel three years to complete this ‘choreographic symphony’ to a commission by Diaghilev in 1909, and the score is usually reduced to two-part suite arrangement (penned by composer in 1911) for concert performance. The 1912 premiere of the full ballet in Paris did not go down as a success following Diaghilev’s open disinterest in Ravel’s score during rehearsal and the opening of Débussy’s L’Après-midi d’un faune the previous month, featuring provocative choreography by Nizhinsky that usurped public attention.

While Daphnis et Chloé reveals Ravel’s intricate powers of orchestration at their height, with rich impressionist tapestries and pictorial evocations of celestial groves, its subtleties struggle to reign in the listener for its full duration (just under an hour) without the presence of a ballet corps. Much like Stravinsky’s Apollon Musagète, which Sir Simon Rattle conducted last season alongside Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, it is—at least based on the performance I saw—a difficult piece to pull off in the concert hall. Nézet-Séguin had a clear sense of what we wanted from the orchestra and did not let the reins slack on a body of players who often dictate what is happening onstage at least as much as the conductor, and his French-speaking roots certainly worked to the performance’s advantage through the ethereal ebbs and flows of Ravel’s music, yet the Philharmonic’s handsome elegance remained a bit staid for moments of sheer nymph-like grace. The orchestra nevertheless thrived through the score’s transparent textures, such as the rapid flute and harp over muted strings that imitate the sound of rushing brooklets before building into a majestic view over the nymphs’ prairie in the third tableau.

The story, adapted by Michael Fokine from an ancient Greek romance, tells of the courtship between the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé, who is kidnapped by pirates but saved by her father, Pan. Once Daphnis and Chloé are reunited, a tumultuous final dance of the nymphs celebrates their union. Ravel weaves a simple two-note motive throughout the score to designate the pair’s mystical realm, easily evoking the earth’s breaking in the closing scene. The chorus is deployed atmospherically to enhance a sense of rapture, at one point emerging accompanied. The Rundfunkchor, which recorded this work with Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo in 2010, produced glorious tones here, particularly in the soprano section. Concert Master Guy Braunstein delivered his solo numbers with deeply sensitive musicianship, evoking Daphnis’ approach of Chloé and the young Nymph wandering in the meadow with gleaming tone. The flute and clarinet solos of the Lycanion dances emerged with characteristic elegance and fluidity of communication.

Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, officially designated as a ‘fantasy overture,’ similarly illustrates the stormy Shakespearean love story in a programmatic development of contrasting tableaus, moving from the prescient concerns of Friar Lawrence before yielding to the feuding Capulets and Montagues. The rich cellos and woodwinds of the opening Andante revealed the Philharmonic in top form, and the violins lamented with a well-rounded vibrato under Braunstein. Nézet-Séguin led a tight, fiery Allegro, and the longing wind solos during the couple’s first meeting on Juliet’s balcony left little to be desired. Still, having recently heard the Marinsky, the seas of string pianissimi had a slightly brittle quality. The orchestra redeemed itself with the clean attacks and immaculate synchrony of the whirlwind inner movement. The elegiac homage to the lovers in the final Moderato, punctuated by the theme of the warring factions, burned with tension.

The program opened with Berio’s Sequenza IXa for clarinet solo, a virtuosic yet poetic exploration that Walter Seyfarth, a player with the Philharmonic since 1985, dispatched with impressive technical control and dynamic nuance. The piece takes the form of a structured yet unstable train of thought, evolving through runs across the instrument’s full range into a kind of internal dialogue that culminates in a blaring high note which is juxtaposed with increasingly vehement melodic opposition until it is echoed in resigned resolution. Allusions to the vocalisations of Berio’s spouse and muse Cathy Berberian and saxophone-like motifs expand the clarinet’s dimensions into nearly operatic planes. While the connection of this piece with the rest of the program remained unclear—an unusual occurrence at the Philharmonic—it is heartening to watch Berio become standard fare in the German capital.

The Philharmonie at dusk

The Philharmonie on Potsdamer Platz (c) Schirmer/Berliner Philharmoniker

Mostly Mozart/Some Stravinsky

Friday, August 12th, 2011

by Sedgwick Clark

Lincoln Center’s attempt to add variety to Mostly Moz is just fine with me, especially if the variety is Stravinsky. Audiences seem to agree too, for a Saturday afternoon of Stravinsky films and two concerts of his chamber music by the spiffy International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) were packed.

The first of the films was the familiar CBS New Special on the composer, narrated by Charles Kuralt. There’s a lot of good material here (unfortunately in a washed-out video source so typical of the 1960s), particularly an appearance in Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, where Le Sacre du printemps received its scandalous premiere on May 29, 1913. The aged composer tells of that infamous occasion and walks to the seat in which he sat that night. But not for long, as the audience’s catcalling began almost immediately and the infuriated composer arose from his seat, shouted “Go to hell,” and headed backstage.

The second film documents a powerfully emotional 1963 Budapest performance of the composer leading the Hungarian Radio Orchestra in his Symphony of Psalms. Ensemble is iffy, tuning of the winds is wishful, and the orchestra is obviously following the concertmaster rather than Stravinsky’s jerky beats. But none of this matters in light of a mesmerizingly slow third movement that never loses its rapt concentration and buoyant rhythm. How could he ever have said — even to make an anti-Romantic point — that “music is powerless to express anything”?

The third film was choreographer Pina Bausch’s 1978 rendering of Le Sacre (to Boulez’s Cleveland recording), overpowered by the music as usual. The fourth film was Julie Taymor’s fanciful production of Oedipus Rex, which was about as far from the composer’s austere conception as could be imagined, and presumably welcome to those who find the music marmoreal. Jessye Norman and Philip Langridge sing well, with Seiji Ozawa leading the Saito Kinen Festival Orchestra.

Stravinsky on ICE

The pair of ICE concerts on Monday, August 8, offered rarely played works in sterling performances. The 7:30, in Alice Tully Hall, was all Stravinsky, and the 10:30 concert in the Kaplan Penthouse was Stravinsky and several short works written in memoriam to him by Denisov, Berio, Carter, Finnissy, Schnittke, and Zorn. (The complete listing of works is at the end of my previous blog.) So, let’s talk about the guest conductor, Pablo Heras-Casado. The day after this concert, my friend Mark Swed, music critic of the Los Angeles Times, called to ask if I had heard these concerts (silly question) and what I thought of Pablo. To tell the truth, I hadn’t heard of him before reading Steve Smith’s Times review on Monday of an earlier concert in which H-C reportedly set very fast tempos in Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, which is the only way I can abide the piece (after all, Wolfy did specify Molto Allegro and Allegro assai for the outer movements). But now that I have I won’t miss his next local appearances. His bio says he’s “A champion of contemporary music” and that he has the imprimatur of Pierre Boulez. Oddly, however, there’s no mention of his home country and age. He’s 34, hails from Granada, Spain, and has a bush of dark, curly hair that rivals Gustavo’s. He, too, is blessed with matinee idol looks. From the Tully balcony he looked to be all of 20 when he smiled, but seemed closer to his given age in the intimate Penthouse.

He certainly knows his way around a score. Stravinsky’s Ragtime, “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, Eight Instrumental Miniatures, and the Octet downstairs zipped along delightfully. He might have reined in his ICE players a bit and achieved crisper textures, but such sins of youth are forgivable in light of such clean rhythms and lively tempos. Only the thorny Concerto for Piano and Winds disappointed; had I not heard the revelatory performance last season at Zankel by Jeremy Denk and John Adams conducting the Ensemble ACJW, the performance in Tully would have seemed impressive. But Peter Serkin’s technically unimpeachable yet comparatively monochromatic solo work paled next to Denk’s fleet-fingered, balletic romp.

Perahia’s Bach

A Sony Classical re-release in a three-CD set (88697 82429 2) of Bach keyboard concertos played by Murray Perahia is so darned musical that one wonders where nearly everyone else went wrong. So warm, expressive, joyous, naturally paced—if you don’t have these recordings already, don’t hesitate.

Contents: Keyboard Concertos Nos. 1-7; Concerto for Flute, Violin & Harpsichord in A minor, BWV 1044; Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050; Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971.

Looking forward

8/12-13 Bard Music Festival. Sibelius and His World.