From Good to Excellent

6 chamber concerts at the Musikfest 2013

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From Good to Excellent

6 chamber concerts at the Musikfest 2013

by Nancy Chapple
Photos: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco (Emerson String Quartet), Richard Haughton (Chamber Orchestra of Europe), Marco Borggreve (Pierre-Laurent Aimard), Molina Visuals (Quatuor Diotima), Pierre-Emmanuel Rastoin (Garth Knox), Stefan Röhl (Philharmonia Quartett Berlin), KassKara (Carolin Widmann), Raphaël Faux (András Schiff), Birgitta Kowsky (Hanno Müller-Brachmann)

The red thread connecting the concerts seemed clear enough before the Musikfest began: the focus would be on certain 20th century composers - far from unrecognized, but each somehow iconoclastic and outside the mainstream tradition: Janáček, Bartók and Lutosławski.
Klassik-in-Berlin's Heiko Schon attended six orchestral concerts, whereas we heard six chamber concerts. One focus of this year's Musikfest roster is Béla Bartók, and Klassik-in-Berlin had wondered whether programming the six Bartók quartets in three concerts over the course of two weeks would be effective. Each time, however, we truly felt immersed in the Bartók world of sound.
Would it have been possible for an "ordinary mortal" to attend all the concerts and understand all the intended facets of the programming? I'm not sure. We gave it our very best effort. But I believe - across the many evenings - the thread faded from red to a wan pale pink.




08/30/2013 - Emerson String Quartet
09/01/2013 - Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Though the concert framework may be similar-getting settled in your seats, observing other concertgoers' ages and levels of anticipation, events can soon differ greatly.
With the Emerson String Quartet, the audience in the sold-out Chamber Music Hall ("almost impossible to achieve," the founder of Berlin's Spectrum Concerts has assured us, "a design flaw from the start") was practically cheering before the music began: violinist Philip Setzer told us in surprisingly good German that his colleague Eugene Drucker would play first violin in all of the evening's works, not alternating roles as the ensemble often does.
At Pierre-Laurent Aimard's concert, perhaps one-third of the seats in the Philharmonie, from behind the stage to the top of the hall, had not been sold, so the hall felt far from full. His first words to us were, "No photos!", admonishing someone in the audience.

08/30/2013 - Kammermusiksaal

Program
Béla Bartók
String Quartet No. 2 op. 17
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
String Quartet No. 6 F minor op. 80
Béla Bartók
String Quartet No. 6

Artists
Emerson String Quartet


musikfest berlin 2013
Emerson String Quartet
Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
The Emerson String Quartet first performed together in 1979, and experienced the first change in their ranks just this spring: cellist Paul Watkins replaced David Finckel. He seemed particularly alert and thrilled to perform for us.
Kodály pointed out that the unisono passages in two movements of the 2nd Quartet "radiate in colors ... despite the lack of harmony and of an orchestra." I imagined that working on the Bartók quartets had informed the Emerson's interpretation of Mendelssohn's 6th Quartet, inducing them to stress the offbeats and imbue the work with a jagged impatience (though never rushing). But apparently this characteristic can already be found in the score: the work's three fast movements follow the same pattern of metrical articulation, creating "an overall impression of instability and fleeting moments."

09/01/2013 - Philharmonie

Program
Béla Bartók
Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano
Leoš Janáček
Concertino for piano, two violins, viola, clarinet and bassoon
György Ligeti
Chamber Concerto for 13 instrumentalists
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Concerto for piano and orchestra in G major KV 453

Artists
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Klavier / Leitung
Lorenza Borrani - Violine / Konzertmeisterin
Romain Guyot - Klarinette


musikfest berlin 2013
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Photo: Richard Haughton
Aimard's concert was fascinating programming: works for an ensemble of 3, then 7, then 13 instrumentalists, a journey through Bartók (1939), Janáček (1928) and Ligeti (1969-70), followed by a Mozart concerto on the second half. The musicians played intensely, perfectly attuned to each other in an ongoing dialogue.
The first half's three works would have made up a fascinating enough journey. The uneven movement lengths in Bartók's Contrasts, the alternation between craggy, energetic passages and lyrical, intense ones; Janáček's fascinating sparse and then unisono instrumentation, rounded off by the unusual sounds of Ligeti's Chamber Concerto. Ligeti himself wrote in the score, "The bar lines are only to coordinate the voices; bar lines never signify an emphasis"; sounds often glided into each other, overlapping; one movement combined piccolo and bass saxophone, the uppermost piano register alternating with the lowest string bass tones.

musikfest berlin 2013
Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Photo: Marco Borggreve
My concert-going companion is a "Mozart hater" (the term gets 426 Google hits, as well as 134 for Mozarthasser). And I was of his opinion: the concert's second half felt superfluous. Why go back two centuries in time and embed Aimard in the animated Chamber Orchestra of Europe? Simply to attract a bigger audience?




09/10/2013 - Quatuor Diotima with Garth Knox
09/15/2013 - Philharmonia Quartett Berlin

09/10/2013 - Kammermusiksaal

Program
Béla Bartók String Quartet No. 3
Leoš Janáček String Quartet No. 2 “Intimate Letters” (Version with viola d’amore)
Leoš Janáček String Quartet No. 1 “Kreutzer Sonata”
Béla Bartók String Quartet No. 4

Artists
Quatuor Diotima
Garth Knox - Viola d'amore


musikfest berlin 2013
Quatuor Diotima
Photo: Molina Visuals
The Quatuor Diotima gave an intense, highly present performance that was sensual and rich in colors. In terms of the ensemble, their unusually present 2nd violin did not blend in with the 1st violin. The cello's sound was like hot butter, smooth and warm and glowing from within. My concertgoing companion announced that the violist holds the group together, giving the signals. Since the first violinist's back was toward us, we could not truly draw a joint conclusion.
The program consisted of 2 Bartók and 2 Janáček quartets, all composed within a five-year period in the 1920's.
musikfest berlin 2013
Garth Knox
Photo: Pierre-Emmanuel Rastoin
From the start, one concentrates in Bartók on pure sound. He demands a kind of abstract listening, a focus on the constructive aspects, which in my mind differs from other composers.
The musical effects in the 4th quartet-all glissandi in the second movement and using "Bartók pizzicato" (the string is plucked with two fingers and then bounced back to the fingerboard) in the fourth - were fascinating.
Janáček's music, despite being contemporary, felt completely different: radical in the contrasts of motives, moods, tempi and articulations. As aptly stated in the program, the 2nd Quartet, "Intimate Letters", is a narrative-psychological process; it "depicts spiritual states of mind in the highest possible tension and discrepancies, with all the feelings between devotion and aggressiveness." For this work the quartet was joined by the highly experienced Garth Knox on the viola d'amore, Janáček's original concept for the instrumentation for the piece.

09/15/2013 - Kammermusiksaal

Program
Béla Bartók String Quartet No. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven String Quartet in F major op. 18,1
Béla Bartók String Quartet No. 5

Artists
Philharmonia Quartett Berlin


musikfest berlin 2013
Philharmonia Quartett Berlin
Photo: Stefan Röhl
As on another occasion, Klassik-in-Berlin was a bit disappointed in the concert of the Philharmonia Quartett, composed of four members of the string section of one of the world's best orchestras. On this Sunday morning, the ensemble played in tune (with the possible exception of the last movement of the Beethoven) and together - yet we were not swept off our feet by the intensity of their interpretation, as we were by both the Quatuor Diotima and the Emerson String Quartet.
Bartók's Fifth Quartet is, however, a fascinating piece: the ricochet effect in the fourth movement, the energetic Scherzo, the gut sense that the work functions as a whole, that the movements are interrelated, using similar motives and in dialogue with each other.




09/17/2013 - Carolin Widmann

09/17/2013 - Kammermusiksaal

Program
Béla Bartók Sonata for Solo Violin
Bernd Alois Zimmermann Sonata for Solo Violin
Georg Friedrich Haas de terrae fine for solo violin
Johann Sebastian Bach Partita No. 2 D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004

Artists
Carolin Widmann


musikfest berlin 2013
Carolin Widmann
Photo: KassKara
Integrity, intensity, presence - those were the outstanding qualities in Carolin Widmann's solo performance. Ms Widmann is not afraid to play difficult works - neither do challenging scores slow her down, nor does she so want to please us that she underplays the works' harshness and dissonance. All the works programmed were demanding - for both soloist and listeners.
Haas has written that microtonal phenomena are ubiquitous in music, for instance in a string section's vibrato, or in difference tones that resonate in the low register with pure intervals. The unique aspect in his work was his using them as constituent elements to create the overall form. The micro-tonality of Haas's de terrae fine is unfamiliar, and the passage towards the end of the work with a repeated loud, crunchy double stop across the strings so annoyed one listener that she provocatively left the hall on clacking high heels. But this was a sophisticated audience. Together we were all at the edge of our seats.
Her concluding performance of the Bach d-minor Partita was equally intense. She proved her ability to create large, transparent forms with the concluding Chaconne.




09/18/2013 - András Schiff & Müller-Brachmann

09/18/2013 - Kammermusiksaal

Program
Béla Bartók Suite for piano op.14
Antal Doráti The Voices, song cycle for bass voice and piano based on texts by Rainer Maria Rilke
Leoš Janáček On an Overgrown Path, 15 miniatures for piano, 1st book 1-10
Modest Mussorgsky Songs and Dances of Death, song cycle for voice and piano

Artists
András Schiff - Piano
Hanno Müller-Brachmann - Bass-baritone


musikfest berlin 2013
András Schiff
Photo: Raphaël Faux
The weakness of stretching a programming red thread across disparate types of evenings became clear on the final evening: a benefit concert for the Hungarian office of Human Rights Watch, pianist Andras Schiff as soloist, joined by bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann for Lieder cycles by Antal Doráti and Mussorgsky. The concert was for a good cause: the organization's Germany director gave a short impassioned speech about the NGO's projects. It seemed many of the concert's attendees were more interested in Hungary or in HRW's good works than in the music itself.
And - surprisingly enough, that indifference, that lack of passion about the works and the performance could be felt in the hall. The audience's restlessness and unconcentratedness seemed to feed into the performers' - above all Schiff's - interest in communicating to us. For instance, the audience began applauding the quiet endings of the Bartók Suite and the Doráti cycle before he had raised his hands from the keyboard - and he visibly showed his impatience with this irreverence for concert hall conventions.
musikfest berlin 2013
Hanno Müller-Brachmann
Photo: Birgitta Kowsky
His interpretation of the Bartok Suite showed me new sides of the work - a gentle lurching of the tempo in the Allegretto, a glowing of the melody in the inner lines of the Sostenuto. I'd never heard Janáček's On an Overgrown Path. No development takes place in the individual pieces; motifs are simply repeated. Schiff seemed to be enjoying the colors and moods greatly. But unfortunately the work did not cross the barrier between the podium and the audience, at least not for this listener.
Müller-Brachmann is an impressive performer: present, expressive, his texts clearly enunciated, the upper and lower ends of his range just as engaging and alive to hear as the middle. Of the two works, the Doráti was particularly interesting in using Rilke texts expressing a uniquely poetic social realism, and in the way the piano voice sometimes simply supported but often punctuated the vocal statements. Overall, the concert did not leave much of an impression.



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