Berlin Concert Review

Concert Review: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Concert date: 5 November, 2011
  • Conductor: Sir Simon Rattle

The Program:

• Helmut Lachenmann: Tableau for Orchestra

• Gustav Mahler: Symphony #9

It is one of the exciting facts of our age that we now have the capability to log on to the Berlin Philharmonic’s (BPO’s) Digital Concert Hall at 11 AM California time, and to be “in the live audience”, watching their concert at 7 PM Berlin time!

And when they are going to perform Mahler’s 9th, how can I go wrong?

I have never heard the composition by Helmut Lachenmann, so I am looking forward to that, as well.

This first work was heavily oriented toward the development of new sounds in which we hear a lot of brass and percussion and quite little tonal, melodic music. There are also many dramatic silences, and barely audible sounds from the winds. Interesting also were the hushed sounds of air passing through a trumpet, with no audible note being heard.

The camera work is great, in that the audience gets to roam around the French Horn section, or to see any other soloist up close.

Perhaps my reaction is similar to how folks reacted when they first heard Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. His sounds were also very new during those days. This first work concluded after about 17 minutes; I’ll have to hear it again… Composer took a bow… and got some flowers…

An interesting interview with the composer followed. Mr. Lachenmann talked about his “supermarket of sound”, where he tries to share some of these sounds with us. These are sounds of, say, friction of a bow on a string, rather than focusing on a specific tone, such as F-sharp. As such, he talks about being a “noise-maker”, rather a conventional composer of more tonal music.

And now for the Mahler 9th:

The symphony starts with muted tones of the Andante Comodo… Cello… Harp… muted horn… Then strings, as if a sigh… Later, the whole orchestra states another main theme, led by the strings, and with the Horn responding. There is a return to solo Harp… with quiet rumblings from the violins; and then the whole orchestra participates in a seemingly joyous moment, only to return to threads of sadness. Then we hear again the sigh-like figurations that we heard at the beginning. All that leads to a rush climax by the whole orchestra, with strong Tympani sounds… Flourishes by the trumpets and sounds from the strings bring back the sigh motif…as accompanied by harps; one more violin solo and the sound of a piccolo… and the harps, clarinet, flute and the violin solo with the oboe, with the final piccolo note, bring the movement to a close.

Second movement: In the tempo of a Laendler:

Starting off with a Bassoon accompaniment, this native dance-like movement has a much less somber feeling than the opening movement. The strings are in charge here, playing out their hearts in melodies, and the Winds and Brass support and respond. The whole thing is one grand Waltz, only an Austrian can feel. Finally, the Bassoons return with their opening accompaniment figure, and the strings lead the other instruments to the close, with the Picollo having the last sound.

Third movement: Rondo, Burleske

This movement, too, opens in a rapid and joyous manner. A March emerges, as we have seen in many other Mahler works. All the instruments participate in the merry music making, and Fugue develops that is happily played by everyone. Winds, Brass and strings lead the parade with an extensive musical development toward a frenzied close.

Final movement: Adagio; very slow, and holding back

The strings open this much slower and more serious final movement. A lone Bassoon responds briefly; then the horn joins the music; Contra Bassoon and Basses play against the high violins; the music is quite somber now. A tragic feeling already emerges at this point, with the entire orchestra participating. The strings play along with the solo oboe; it is as though a few strands of sound are left…we hear a strand of English Horn, Flute, clarinet, and more oboe. The strings try to renew their theme… only to return to the subdued sounds that seem to lead to an inevitable end. We hear a few threads again, from violins, English Horn, solo Cello, more and more quiet… and just one more final sound… and it is over.

Here is the Mahler: Symphony No. 9, first movement, Andante – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle



Tags: Gustav Mahler, Symphony #9, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle

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