Musikfest Berlin 2013 (5):Controlled Power and Vibrant Colour from Bavarian Radio Orchestra

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GermanyGermany Musikfest Berlin 2013 (5): Lutosławski, Bartók: Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons (conductor), Philharmonie, Berlin, 5.9.2013. (MC)


Mariss Jansons, © photo Markus Dlouhy
Mariss Jansons, © photo Markus Dlouhy

Lutosławski: Concerto for orchestra (1950/54)
Bartók: Concerto for orchestra (1941/43)


On Wednesday evening the Amsterdam Concertgebouw had played. Tonight it was the turn of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Mariss Jansons and the appearance tomorrow of the Berliner Philharmoniker demonstrates that the Musikfest Berlin 2013 attracts the highest possible quality of orchestra.

Using the Central European theme and this year being the centenary of Lutosławski’s birth, Maestro Jansons had selected tonight’s works well. Bartók and Lutosławski form part of an elite group standing at the forefront of twentieth-century music and their Concertos for Orchestra are challenging masterworks guaranteed to test even the finest orchestra.

Bartók wrote his Concerto for orchestra in 1941/43 whilst in exile in America, safe from the dangers of his Nazi occupied Hungary, yet experiencing ill-health and problems adjusting to his new life. It was a fellow émigré, the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who threw Bartók a lifeline by commissioning the score in memory of his late wife Natalie. Early in his career Polish born Lutosławski took Bartók as a model and saw himself having much in common with twentieth-century composers such as Bartók, Stravinsky and Debussy. Lutosławski had to suffer the severe hardships of living in Nazi occupied Warsaw and later bound by the musical censorship of the Soviet political system. Somehow out of the restrictions of the post-Soviet era came his Concerto for Orchestra, a commission from conductor Witold Rowicki for his Philharmonic Orchestra of Warsaw.

Although Jansons’s Bavarian players are versatile and proficient enough to play anything set before them, this pair of Concertos for Orchestra suited them down to the ground. The wide dynamics were testing enough but this orchestra when required to play fortissimo in the frequent orchestral climaxes, doesn’t merely produce an ear-piercing volume; it plays with a controlled power providing a glowing sound of vibrant colours. All this is achieved without compromising unison and intonation.

In the Lutosławski a true highlight was the Intrada, one of my all-time favourite twentieth-century movements. With the writing fluctuating between the Arcadian and scowling moods at one point the strings break out into a vivid stream of beautiful sound that took the breath away. At the Finale: Presto of the Bartók everything was high energy, yet under Maestro Jansons nothing felt agitated or hurried. Not only did the orchestra play with commitment and enthusiasm they kept their composure magnificently.

I never cease to be amazed at the elevated standard this Bavarian orchestra maintains so consistently under Maestro Jansons. The concert was a triumph for all concerned and I cannot imagine anyone going away feeling other than stimulated and delighted.


Michael Cookson