October 30, 2007

Beautifully Blended Opposites

Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle in Konzerthaus


Anton Webern
Fünf Stücke für Orchester op. 10
Arnold Schönberg
Vier Lieder op. 22
Anton Bruckner
Symphony No. 7 e-major


Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim - Conductor
Katharina Kammerloher - Mezzosoprano

Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

Beautifully Blended Opposites

Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle in Konzerthaus

by Anicia Timberlake / Photo: Monika Ritterhaus

The audience didn't seem quite ready for the downbeat of Anton Webern's Fünf Stücke für Orchester, which began very softly, before the people had put away their programs and tissues. Apparently Daniel Barenboim felt the same way; after concluding the pieces, which last only five minutes, he turned to the audience and requested permission to perform them again, "under the condition that you don't compare the two performances." It was difficult to follow that injunction, of course, but as the pieces are lovely and very concisely composed, it was nice—and maybe necessary!—to hear them again. They are sparsely orchestrated for 19 musicians (4 of whom are percussionists) and have the feel of very intimate chamber music. Perhaps that was the reason that Barenboim sometimes seemed a little hectic and out of place: his choppy beats and gestures were at odds with the delicate yet intense atmosphere created by the orchestra. The second time around was much more settled on everyone's part.

Schönberg's Vier Orchesterlieder were the low point of the evening. Katharina Kammerlohr has a rich, expressive voice, but either occasionally strange acoustics in the Konzerthaus or an overloud orchestra made her hard to hear. The orchestra, for its part, seemed to be struggling to keep the music moving, and the first song never got off the ground. The second was also clunky: the individual measures didn't ever manage to form phrases. By the fourth song, however, orchestra, conductor, and soloist seemed to have hit their stride.

Daniel Barenboim

It was clear that Bruckner's 7th Symphony was the piece everyone had been waiting for, and their expectations were more than fulfilled. The performance was a masterpiece of beautifully blended opposites: grounded yet free, present yet distant. Barenboim occasionally attempted to gloss over Bruckner's abrupt transitions instead of reveling in them; the effect was usually confused rather than smooth. But apart from that technical issue, he found a very convincing balance between taking charge and simply letting the music unfold. It was truly refreshing to hear the symphony not over-dramatized. The celli, perfectly blended, seemed to hover on the border between the celestial and the present—was the music coming from the stage or from somewhere more ineffable? There were some absolutely lovely horn moments in the first movement. The second movement, with the irresistible five tubas (five!), featured another blending of opposites: somber yet joyous. The third movement, though not at all fast, still managed to convey a sense of rash motion. Though some intonation problems in the woodwinds and some inflexibility in the first violins plagued the fourth movement, it was gloriously lively and plastic. The audience was quite naturally overwhelmed, Barenboim beamed, feet were stamped and "Bravo" was shouted—and the tubas received a special ovation.