December 19, 2002

Jansons leads Berliners, Andsnes in Schumann, Shostakovich


Carl Maria von Weber
Overture to Euryanthe

Robert Schumann
a-minor Piano Concerto

Dmitri Shostakovich
5th Symphony


Berliner Philharmoniker
Mariss Jansons - conductor
Leif Ove Andsnes - Piano

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Jansons leads Berliners, Andsnes in Schumann, Shostakovich

by Nancy Chapple

Starting an orchestral program with an opera overture by Carl Maria von Weber gives the audience a bracing dose of diatonic passagework and dotted rhythms in 4/4. On this occasion, Mariss Jansons, frequent guest conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic this year, began the evening with the overture to Euryanthe. The b-minor fugato provided a nice contrast to the otherwise straightforward themes and despite a couple of shaky moments for the celli and horns, the whole was energetically played by the orchestra.

Leif Ove Andsnes was the soloist in Robert Schumann's a-minor Piano Concerto. His clearly-voiced playing sparkled. The oboe's first theme rang out with a piercing, melancholy directness; the piano took over with sheen and less pain. The instrumental lines were very clear: for instance, the overlapping layers of the end of a phrase in one instrumental group and the beginning of another could always be clearly distinguished. The long cadenza to the Allegro affetuoso was of a sensuous clarity, the fortes never too loud, the direction always clear. The Intermezzo was over in a jiffy, with transparently voiced chords in both piano and winds. The virtuoso runs in the 3rd movement may repeat a few times too many, but Andsnes carried them off iridescently each time. The quick changes in mood were impressive: both ensemble and pianist were able to turn on a penny, shifting from lyrical and meditative lines to taut and precise staccati. Clara Schumann, who debuted the concerto in Dresden in 1845, is quoted in the program - "The piano is interwoven with the orchestra in the most filigree of ways - you can't imagine the one without the other" - a fitting description of this performance. The orchestra played beautifully.

Dmitri Shostakovich's 5th Symphony filled the evening's second half. A tremendous success at its premiere in 1937, often examined to understand how Shostakovich's compositional direction was affected by the oft-changing political winds in the Soviet Union, the work remains accessible and moving. The Moderato begins in an elegiac, plaintive mood; it was played in a very restrained tempo, and the audience savored the narrow part writing and the double dotted notes. The piano's first appearance supports the intense theme in the horns. Here, however, the two seemed at cross-purposes, the piano pushing forward and the horns holding back; it wasn't clear whether this was an interpretative decision or simply a mistake.

The second movement began with an astonishing scratchy sound in the celli and basses. The bittersweet trio melody was played with a compelling nose-thumbing sarcasm by the concertmaster; the flute lagged in sheer character, but other flute passages were completely convincing. The string pizzicato in the recapitulation was breathtaking in its technical prowess. The dynamics seemed exaggerated in the Largo, as if the dynamic palette was being stretched to encompass new meanings: a small crescendo played as a huge swell, piano espressivo absolutely hushed. Again the feeling: how much more intensity, how many more high points, can we take? The tremendously difficult runs in the last movement's Più mosso were precisely together - but also pushed, tending to be overly loud and a bit sharp. The penultimate soft section provided tremendous relief before hitting the last high point.

The audience quickly jumped to their feet, raving intensely, much more for the Shostakovich than for the Schumann. In fact, most remained cheering the conductor even after the orchestra had left the stage.

(This review originally appeared at