BBC Proms reviews

Prom 34: DSOB/Metzmacher @ Royal Albert Hall, London

10 August 2010

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: David Levene/Royal Albert Hall)

The ‘heady opulence of Viennese late-Romanticism’ may have run through the three works at this Prom from the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, under the baton of Ingo Metzmacher. The joy of the evening, however, derived just as much from the sheer variety of the pieces that hung beneath the overarching umbrella than from any similarities between them.

The first of these, Franz Schreker’s Nachtstck, came from his second opera, Der ferne Klang, although it was completed by 1909 before the entire work. It depicts the moment when the chief protagonist starts to realise just how much his fanatical quest is costing him, and this performance applied a multitude of different textures to the piece’s generally foreboding premise. The strings, in particular, could be sweeping or timid, hang heavy with a haunting thickness, or glisten and shimmer with lightness. Similarly, while the bell-like percussion twinkled, the orchestra was always ready to pounce at the right moment, before finally fading to nothing.

All three movements of Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 of 1937 (revised 1945) arose out of music that he had written while working at Warner Bros. Soloist Leonidas Kavakos played with a remarkable combination of surety, precision and depth, and reacted well with the orchestra to ensure that the appropriate level of melancholy always lay behind the first movement’s pleasing melody.

In the second movement Kavakos played with beauty and intrigue with the quieter moments showing him at his very best. If the jig-like final movement was what led one critic to dub the concerto ‘more corn than gold’, the interpretation here, in which the orchestra conveyed the sense of a momentous journey coming to an end, proved just how wayward such a remark is.

If half of the audience were only present to witness Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 they weren’t to be disappointed. From the start, the different sections of the orchestra interacted superbly to present a detailed and multi-faceted performance. As the opening ‘tenorhorn’ sparked the brass into life, spurred the wind into action and set the strings ablaze with frenetic flurries of activity (the eight double basses seemed particularly passionate), the sound was both smooth and strident from the off.

Depending on one’s taste it would be possible to pick minor holes in the performance. The second movement was arguably a shade too slow and the third a little too sweet still, but this is where the brilliance of Metzmacher came through. He does everything for a good reason and his thought patterns are so coherent that it becomes easy to understand his vision, and to feel every moment in exactly the way that he intended it to be felt.

The fourth movement burst with the sheer intensity that underlay its beautiful quietness, while the fifth, traditionally seen as problematic because it saw Mahler trying to be joyful ‘at all costs’, proved to be nothing of the sort. This was because the brass fanfares were so superbly ‘countered’ by the strings, the two sounds contrasting markedly and yet still complementing each other well. It put paid to the lie that joyful cannot also be profound. Schoenberg, who loved the final movement, never believed it anyway, and here Metzmacher more than proved him right.


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