A Munich Jugendkonzert with Dutilleux, Mendelssohn, Kodaly and Stravinsky

Dutilleux, Mendelssohn, Kodály, Stravinsky: Renaud Capuçon (violin), Munich Philharmonic Orchestra/Lionel Bringuier (conductor), Philharmonie, Gasteig, Munich, 11.5.2011 (MC)

Dutilleux: Métaboles
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64
Dances of Galánta
: The Firebird (version 1919)

Violinist Renaud Capuçon and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lionel Bringuier were playing the same programme on two consecutive nights at the Munich Philharmonie, the first of which was a youth concert (Jugendkonzert). I have seen classical music concerts in the UK aimed at attracting young people before and the results were extremely disappointing with no more than a handful attending. I interviewed Andrew Manze around this time last year after he had conducted the Munich Phil in this same hall. Manze expressed a view as to why young people avoid classical music concerts: “It could be that it appears too conventional, and that the setting of it in a concert hall where you sit still and don’t talk may be off-putting. That you have to clap in the right places…Maybe there’s something too restrictive about it.”

Held an hour earlier than usual at 19.00 this Jugendkonzert was a remarkable success with an audience packed with groups of young people; primarily of early secondary school age and as far as I know all paying 9.50 € each. It was a great success to engage popular German television presenter Malte Arkona who bounced about the stage energetically with a microphone introducing and joking with several of the orchestral players to the amused audience.

I guess many of these young people were attending a concert for the first time. Having made that first step over the threshold of the Philharmonie they will have little or no prejudice for the various composers. Few would be aware of any distinction between the music of Mendelssohn and Dutilleux and the reputations of various composers will count for little. In this selection of music that spanned 120 years the young people seemed to react to what pleased their ears and excited their spirit.

The first score on the programme Métaboles for orchestra (1959/64) was by Henri Dutilleux a composer probably known more by reputation than by his actual works. In actual fact Dutilleux has been one of the most influential French composers of the second half of the twentieth century. Most listeners would experience Dutilleux’s works as moderately challenging requiring a reasonable amount of concentration. Métaboles is designed in five movements each using material that is transformed and reused as the basis of the following movement. The final movement is a combination of all the previous material. All that said Dutilleux’s music with its broad dynamics and a fascinating array of dramatic and swiftly shifting colours combined with typically scrupulous playing from the Munich Philharmonic made a strong impression.

Mendelssohn worked closely on his Violin Concerto in E Minor of 1844 with Ferdinand David the pre-eminent virtuoso of the day. Mendelssohn had a particular gift for melody and soloist Renaud Capuçon was clearly well suited to this refined Romantic concerto that brimmed over with a wealth of attractive and memorable themes. Right from his opening bars Capuçon marked his intentions with forceful and authoritative playing using vibrato sparingly. Using the Guarneri del Gesù Panette‘ (1737), previously owned for nearly fifty years by Isaac Stern, the instrument easily filled the hall with its golden tone. Raising the temperature Capuçon’s playing was abundant with energy and passion without a whiff of affectation. Capuçon’s interpretation of the lyrical Andante was so moving and tender that it brought a tear to the eye. With Bringuier attentive never to let the music drag I loved the stirring final movement climax. Won over, the audience brought Capuçon back four times before the orchestra put a stop to this generous show of appreciation by standing up and walking off.

It’s been a while since I last heard Kodály’s Dances from Gálanta performed in concert. Completed in 1934 the set of orchestral dances was a commission to celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Society. An inveterate collector of folk music Kodály extensively employed authentic material that he remembered from the seven years of his childhood spent in the Hungarian market town of Gálanta; now part of the Slovak Republic. An embodiment of Hungarian folk spirit the vividly coloured writing of these five dances provided the orchestra with a wonderful platform to display their talents. Featured extensively the principal clarinet Hungarian Laszlo Kuti was in spirited form. In addition to the slivery clarinet the remainder of the woodwind section covered themselves in glory. For strings only the fourth dance presented a splendid opportunity to hear the poised and polished Munich string section.

The final score and the centrepiece of the evening was the 1919 concert suite from The Firebird Stravinsky’s score for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. Probably chosen with the younger audience in mind the 1919 suite seemed rather too short. In truth, I prefer the 1945 suite that contains additional music from the ballet; best of all is the complete ballet score which might last around forty minutes in performance.

Under the baton of Lionel Bringuier The Firebird suite was an exhilarating and kaleidoscopic adventure through Stravinsky’s magical world of Russian fairy tales. The Introduction seemed a touch uncertain with the Munich players not always together but the situation quickly improved. Simply glorious was the Philharmonic’s playing of the bewitching Princesses’ Round Dance. With the woodwind again impressing, the playing of the principal oboe was especially stunning displaying an attractive reedy timbre. Bold discords and irregular rhythms abound in Kastchei’s infernal dance given a suitably fierce and earthy performance. Many of the audience jumped at the explosive opening. Although I’ve heard the Finale played with more menacing force, Bringuier and the Munich Philharmonic delivered an enjoyable performance with plenty of drama. The audience at this Jugendkonzert went away satisfied, and hopefully it won’t be long before they return.

Michael Cookson