A Concert with the Dresdner Philharmonie is Hard to Fault

12/06/2019

Dresden Music Festival 2019 [6] Messiaen, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Scriabin: Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Dresdner Philharmonie / Karina Canellakis (conductor), Kulturpalast, Dresden, 8.6.2019. (MC)

Christian Tetzlaff (c) Oliver Killig

MessiaenHymne au Saint-Sacrement, for orchestra
Shostakovich – Violin Concerto No. 1, Op.77
Stravinsky Chant funèbre – Homage to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Op.5
ScriabinThe Poem of Ecstasy, Op.54

At this season’s Dresden Music Festival this was my second orchestral concert by the Dresdner Philharmonie at Kulturpalast: a Pfingstkonzert held on the weekend of the feast of Pentecost. Consisting of four works, two were relatively short ones from Messiaen and Stravinsky, and the other two substantial works a Shostakovich concerto and symphonic poem by Scriabin.

Messiaen’s Hymne au Saint-Sacrement was a work I was hearing in concert for the first time. Completed  in 1932 it is an early rather enigmatic work containing symbolism between man and God. It was premièred titled Hymne au Saint-Sacrement and soon after was lost. Owing to interest from Leopold Stokowski, Messiaen rewrote the score from memory, and it was introduced in 1947 with the title Hymne. Karina Canellakis guided her players adeptly through the composer’s harmonic and rhythmic complexity. Striking was the writing for high strings and the wide dynamic range, all exceptionally performed. Although only taking around fourteen minutes to perform I thought I detected a restlessness from some in the audience from around halfway through and I admit my concentration was being stretched too.

Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto has become a regular feature on concert programmes and it is certainly a work I enjoy hearing. Maybe I am being greedy, but it would be good if his Second Violin Concerto was heard more often. Completing the First Violin Concerto in 1948 during a time of strict censorship for composers in Soviet Russia, Shostakovich consigned the unpublished concerto to a drawer for a number of years. When the political climate was thought sufficiently receptive, Shostakovich revised the score and it was premièred in 1955 by celebrated soloist David Oistrakh. Soloist Christian Tetzlaff is currently artist in residence with the orchestra and I felt an instinctive connection between the two, a real team performance. Tetzlaff stepped up to the plate giving a satisfying performance, convincing in tone and control, through the emotionally charged nature of the work. Standing out was the demonical and rather quirky Scherzo, of an often klezmer feel. Tetzlaff got into performing mode, as if feeling the music through his body, yet remained in control. In the Passacaglia, music that has been said to serve as a requiem for victims of the Stalinist regime, Tetzlaff relished the long melodies of an aching, sorrowful character although I have heard it played with more emotional depth. His playing of the Cadenza was a dazzling display of virtuosity. With soloist and orchestra coming together with such resolute teamwork the final movement Burlesque evoked all the sparkling delights of a toy shop, feeling fresh and vibrant it just galloped along with a madcap romp to the conclusion.

This was the first occasion I had heard Stravinsky’s Chant Funèbre (Funeral Song) in concert performance, a work I rate highly. Stravinsky studied composition privately with Rimsky-Korsakov and when his teacher died in 1908, he wrote his Chant Funèbre as a memorial to the great man. After its first performance in 1909 at St Petersburg Conservatoire the Chant Funèbre was assumed to be lost amid the chaos of the revolution. In 2015 the orchestral parts were discovered in the Conservatoire archive and almost one hundred and eight years since it was last heard, in 2016 Valery Gergiev conducted the reconstructed score at St Petersburg. It is an absorbing work and rather than associations with funeral rites the performance evoked to me a scene of an enchanted forest at dusk, complete with nature sounds. Under Canellakis the expanded Dresdner Philharmonie played the work quite beautifully, especially the vast eruption of sound which was handled expertly.

Completed in 1908 Scriabin’s symphonic poem evocatively titled Poème de l’extase (Poem of Ecstasy) is also known as his Symphony No.4. In the score Scriabin uses motifs played by specific instruments to represent actions and feelings with themes to symbolise various scenes and states. To accompany the work Scriabin published a text which he called a ‘philosophical programme’. Music writer Henry Miller said of the Poem of Ecstasy ‘It was like a bath of ice, cocaine and rainbows’. Canellakis navigated the Dresdner Philharmonie through the complexity of Scriabin’s sumptuously heady orchestral writing. In what felt like a joyous voyage of discovery the performance was notable for its concentration and generating such compelling drama and alluring orchestral colour. Within the tightly unified sound the lavish body of tone from the strings led impeccably by Wolfgang Hentrich was remarkable and the timbre of the large wind contingent an absolute delight.

Karina Canellakis was a quietly confident presence on the podium and I was struck by her assured control of the large orchestral forces, especially of tempi and dynamics, bringing the music to life so convincingly. With one sensing that the Dresdner Philharmonie had been impeccably prepared, Canellakis didn’t need to get bogged down in too much detail on the night. All in all, it was a concert which was hard to fault, and I certainly went away feeling suitably elated.

Michael Cookson

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