Passion and Tension in Metzmacher’s Interpretation of Schoenberg

GermanyGermany  Janáček, Dvořák, Schoenberg: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Ingo Metzmacher (conductor), Martin Stadtfeld (piano), Dresden Music Festival 2012, Semper Opera House, Dresden, Germany, 20.5.2012 (MC)

Janáček: Zàrlivost (Jealousy)
Dvořák: Piano Concerto in G minor
Pelleas und Melisande

Ingo Metzmacher,photo credit: Kai Bienert

This Sunday early evening concert was my second of the day at the Semper Opera House in Dresden. This was the first time that I had heard the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and I had been looking forward to this concert for some weeks. The Prague based orchestra have experienced some major changes this season with Eliahu Inbal stepping down as chief conductor to be replaced by the returning Jiří Bělohlávek. For this concert Ingo Metzmacher had taken the baton.

The Hanover born Metzmacher has an interesting discography which reveals that he has become a 20th century music specialist: Berg’s opera Wozzeck; a ‘Homage to Benny Goodman’; the Shostakovich opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Hans Werner Henze’s Sinfonia No.9; the Symphonies of Karl Amadeus Hartmann; ‘A Portrait of Charles Ives’; Luigi Nono’s opera Prometeo and discs of music by Conlon Nancarrow and John Cage. All the works performed by Metzmacher and the Czech Philharmonic at Dresden this evening are 20th century works that can be broadly defined as late-Romantic music.

With the orchestra wearing formal wear, which is rather unusual these days, the tail coated Metzmacher opened the concert with Janáček’s Zàrlivost (Jealousy). Written in 1895 at Prague this orchestral prelude was originally conceived as the overture to Janáček’s Jenůfa; an opera considered by many to be his magnum opus. Janáček dropped the overture from Jenůfa and the score now titled Zàrlivost (Jealousy) is played as a standalone concert piece. The short yet forceful score opened with aggressive timpani and closed with an explosive crash. Janáček involves all sections of the orchestra in his thickly textured music that feels highly pictorial. With a scenario intended to represent a man who would rather kill his lover than allow anyone else to have her Metzmacher ensured that the Czech orchestra maintained a gripping tension throughout.

I attend many concerts in a year yet this was the first time I had attended one that contained Dvořák’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G minor. Written in 1876 I in Prague the Piano Concerto is the earliest of Dvořák’s three mature concertos and by far the least known. Pianist Martin Stadtfeld is only slight, yet he has a certain indefinable presence. Looking the part, resplendent in his long black mandarin collared jacket with white shirt he certainly played with panache and was a marvellous advocate for this underrated score. He was fluid and assured in the stormy and briskly taken Allegro agitato that contained a strange aqueous quality; maybe the composer was thinking of a scene of brooks and streams of his native Bohemia. At approaching twenty minutes in length one soon realised that the opening movement, although attractive, was too long for its material. Warm and rather sumptuous string playing marked the beginning of the Andante, an alluring and idyllic movement. With warmly lyrical phrasing Stadtfeld underlined the handsome if rather unmemorable themes. Metzmacher ensured a forceful pace and power in the Finale, Allegro con fuoco with writing that reminded me of the character of the Slavonic Dances. Playing virtually continuously with considerable expression Stadtfeld relished the bravura ending where both soloist and orchestra cranked up the weight and pace for a furious race to the finish line. Stadtfeld has made numerous J.S. Bach recordings and the clapping and cheering from the audience obtained an encore of a Bach partita.

After the interval the audience was treated to a passionate and tension filled account of Schoenberg’s opulent score to Pelleas und Melisande. Composed in 1902/3 at Vienna this large scale symphonic poem is not heard too often in the concert hall. The score is cast in a single continuous movement with numerous interconnected sections. Schoenberg based the work on Maurice Maeterlinck’s dramatic play Pelléas and Mélisande about the forbidden love of the title characters that is destined to end in tragedy. Metzmacher and the Czech Philharmonic provided a wash of rich and colourful orchestral sound that quickly drifted from one dramatic climax to the next; sometimes ecstatic, sometimes thunderous. Schoenberg’s score gave all sections of the orchestra opportunity to shine or at least be reasonably involved. In the final section with its dark orchestral colouring representing the death of Melisande the playing was sensational.

Michael Cookson