Four Minus One Pieces of Excellent Music

24/02/2015

 Wagner, Berg, Ligeti, and Debussy: Gil Shaham (violin), Philadelphia Orchestra, Robin Ticciati (conductor), Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 22.2.2015 (BJ)

Wagner: Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin
Berg: Violin Concerto
Ligeti: Atmosphères
Debussy: La Mer

 

Though they may seem to the superficial eye or ear to be unlikely program bedfellows, the musical relationship between Wagner and Debussy (perceptively explored, by the way, in the British composer Robin Holloway’s book Debussy and Wagner) was by no means insubstantial. Much of French music around the turn of the 19th century into the 20th was conceived either under the direct influence of Wagner or out of more or less conscious reaction against it.

 It was an interesting idea, therefore, to put La Mer on the same program as the Lohengrin prelude. Moreover, since Wagner also exerted a profound influence of the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg and his pupils, the inclusion of Berg’s Violin Concerto was equally appropriate, as was that of Atmosphères, whose obsession with tone-color transformation was surely influenced in its turn by Farben, the third of Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces.

 The fact that the grouping of these four works made demonstrably good sense should not be taken to imply that all of them were equally worthy of inclusion. Atmosphères certainly played a crucial role, through its (unauthorized!) worldwide dissemination on the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in establishing Ligeti as a name of international prominence. But it has always seemed to me a rather pointless waste of ten minutes, in which nothing of any musical consequence happens. It is a stronger candidate than Ravel’s Boléro for the derisive term that the composer himself drily applied to that too often denigrated jewel of the repertoire: “piece for orchestra without music.”

 That Atmosphères did not rise above so sterile an effect in this performance is by no means to be imputed to any shortcomings in the way it was played, or to the way it was conducted by British-born Robin Ticciati, who was already at the age of 31 making his third appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and demonstrating impressive temperament and technique. Nor should the fact that in the Berg concerto it was sometimes hard to hear soloist Gil Shaham, even when he was visibly playing up a storm, be blamed on either the violinist or the conductor. This was and always is the inevitable consequence of Berg’s often unrestrained scoring, which performers cannot much moderate without destroying the character of the music.

 The more delicate sections of the work, especially the opening with its magical interplay of solo violin and harp, were—like the Lohengrin prelude that had begun the program—beautifully realized, though I did feel toward the end of the concerto that, where Berg’s treatment of a Bach chorale setting was surely aimed at radiance, it sounded instead a trifle lugubrious. For his part, in any case, Gil Shaham is as eloquent and technically secure an exponent of the cruelly taxing solo as any violinist now before the public.

 The afternoon ended with a rousing, indeed often thrilling, performance of La Mer. Ticciati clearly knows this score cold—and that is also the adjective that best describes the way he conducted it, without any inappropriate attempt to inject personal sentiment into this supremely unromantic seascape-without-figures, a piece of nature painting without any softening admixture of human reference. The orchestra’s response to Ticciati’s graceful beat was unfailingly precise and tonally sumptuous, and concertmaster David Kim’s silvery solo was counterpointed by some fine work by timpanist Don Liuzzi and the percussion section that underlined the hard-edged strength of the music.

Bernard Jacobson

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Sundays for a Fiver Festival in November __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre Reopens in December 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! See Pop-Up Opera’s La Tragédie de Carmen this Autumn __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Chamber Music Festival October 2018 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! The Future of Opera is Theatre: An Essay by Casey Creel __________________________________
  • NEW! Jacqui and David Morris’s New Documentary Film Nureyev Celebrates a Unique Man and Dancer __________________________________
  • NEW! MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! JACK BUCKLEY’S MEMORIES OF LINDSAY KEMP (1938-2018) __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GESUALDO SIX IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Appreciation Talks this Autumn from Helen Astrid __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Major Work by Stanford to be Premiered – 99 Years Late! __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR ALEXANDER SLADKOVSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month