6. März 2003
Brendel, Goebbels’ Welturaufführung, und Ein Heldenleben
Aus einem Tagebuch: Kurze Eintragungen für Orchester
Ludwig van Beethoven
Klavierkonzert Nr. 3 c-Moll op. 37
Ein Heldenleben op. 40
Sir Simon Rattle, Dirigent
Alfred Brendel, Klavier
Toru Yasunaga, Solovioline
Brendel, Goebbels’ world premiere, and A Hero's Life
Von Nancy Chapple
Heiner Goebbels’ new work, commissioned especially for the Berlin Philharmonic, is Aus einem Tagebuch: Kurze Eintragungen für Orchester [From a diary: short entries for orchestra]. Goebbels has become known for a kind of hard-to-describe, wonderful-to-experience Gesamtkunstwerk combining eclectic text fragments, visual images, singers and musicians (often the Ensemble Modern). Here, the orchestra is stripped of strings except for six string basses; a piano and sample keyboard have been added. The work is in 19 short flowing sections inspired by compositional fragments from his own works: self-quotations awakened to new life. Sampler sounds start most sections, including a lion’s roar, rushing water, an ashtray striking a steel guitar; the amplification makes it hard to determine where the sound originates in the hall. Short motives based on syncopated rhythms are often repeated, and a dialogue among the instruments is begun. The basses play an active, shaping role. Some offbeat fragments are reminiscent of easy-to-listen-to cool jazz. One reason that Goebbels is approachable is that he uses recognizable meter: a passage’s rhythm often remains constant while the sound grows to a climax. Recurring melodies, or even melodic fragments, are much harder to find.
Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto followed with Alfred Brendel as soloist. In contrast, the work emanated from a far-away era, not dusty or old-fashioned, but a model of on-the-beat rhythmic precision. The key of c minor evoked a truly tragic atmosphere. Brendel played each rhythmic value exactly as notated – and it seemed that conductor Sir Simon Rattle set the scene for his favored precise interpretation. By creating a very quiet carpet of sound, for instance, Brendel could - indeed, was almost obliged to - play very quietly. The cadenza of the 1st movement was noble and brilliant. In the very slow Largo, the progression through the individual harmonies was palpable. Each 64th note was perfectly audible, and Brendel gave a textbook demonstration of dynamics, from a Beethovenian crescendo to a subito pianissimo. His interpretation of the Rondo was less puckish and straighter than some, despite Beethoven’s provocative sforzandos on the offbeats. The orchestra played beautifully – marvelously clear detaché in the strings, incredibly quiet pianissimo sixteenths – if perhaps not with the contagious enthusiasm of the works before and after. The audience applauded wildly.
For Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, Rattle conducted without the score, and the stage was chockfull of instrumentalists. Though the work premiered in 1899, it sounded fresh and modern here. The concertmaster, Toru Yasunaga, was superb in his expressive, passionate playing, and his sound carried above the entire group. Crucial for the piece, the French horns were completely on. The offstage trumpets were also great. The work felt complex, multi-layered. Everything was constantly becoming, shifting, moving. Historical complaints about the piece’s formal weakness could seem justified – the piece just kept ending. It was not as if Rattle was conducting his personal interpretation of the piece with a great orchestra – no, he was forming the sound anew by sculpting the orchestra to sound their very best.
(This review originally appeared at www.classicstoday.com)