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Full Circle

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
opens Musikfest Berlin,
reviewed by CIARAN McAULEY


The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra officially opened Berlin's Musikfest 2007 amid high expectation. Boasting eighteen internationally acclaimed ensembles, this year's event is now well underway having already witnessed a rare rendition of Morton Feldman's epic String Quartet II and adventurous programming is set to continue with a bias for works from Debussy, Ives and Varèse. The Concertgebouw Orchestra's opening Wagner-Debussy program [1 September 2007, Philharmonie, Berlin] was fundamentally plausible, yet lacked the zest of bygone visits.

The Prelude and Good Friday Music from Wagner's Parsifal opened uneasily; the meterless passages being immediately plunged into choppy water through Haitink's awkward divisions at the helm. As a result the woodwind phrasing was uneven, the ensemble disregarded dovetailing principles and this coupled with timpani tuning issues and a lack of sincere intensity, made for a performance more akin to the tale of Copland's Appalachian Spring, than to the chivalry of Wagner's opera. In short, for a work deemed 'one of the liveliest monuments of sound ever raised to the serene glory of music', this was not a fitting tribute.

Thankfully, Claude Debussy's Nocturnes which followed, was to be a tuning point, adding new pep in the proverbial orchestral step. The balance between Debussy's haunting riffs and melodic material was well placed in Nuages and the sense of ensemble in Fêtes and Sirènes was tight yet malleable to Haitink's interpretation. Similarly, Rudolf Escher's orchestration of Debussy's Six Epigraphes Antiques was sensitively performed in fitting and convincing tempos. In this work where the string ensemble is subservient to the wind soloists, the woodwind redeemed themselves through wonderful phrasing and through their treatment of dissonance especially.

The Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde drew the program to a close. Bernard Haitink displayed the qualities of a seasoned maestro, maintaining the necessary intensity through nerve-wracking pauses/silences. At times the ensemble lacked the broad tone necessary for sweeping Wagnerian climaxes and the tempos were a little relentless and pushed, yet that being said, Haitink's interpretation and use of block chords as structural markers prior to the cello and double bass bridge passage, was completely convincing and indeed the program had come full circle.

Copyright © 5 September 2007 Ciaran McAuley, Berlin, Germany



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