Excellent Playing and Splendid Unity from Berlin’s Deutsche Oper Orchestra

GermanyGermany Musikfest Berlin 2014 – Anton Webern, Aribert Reimann, Johannes Brahms: Laura Aiken (violin), Orchester Der Deutschen Oper Berlin / Donald Runnicles, (conductor), Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany 14.9.2014 (MC)

Donald Runnicles Dirigent
Donald Runnicles Dirigent

Webern: Im Sommerwind, Idyll for large orchestra                                                                                                          
Aribert Reimann: Drei Lieder for soprano and orchestra                                                                        
Brahms: Serenade No. 1 in D major for large orchestra, Op. 11


Under its general music director Donald Runnicles it is always good to hear the Orchester Der Deutschen Oper Berlin venturing out of the pit into the surroundings of the Philharmonie. Make no mistake this is a first rate orchestra as demonstrated by its award winning 2013 release of Wagner scenes and arias, with the Wesendonck Lieder sung by Jonas Kaufmann on Decca.

It wasn’t too many years after writing the tone poem for large orchestra Im Sommerwind in 1904 that Anton Webern’s style of composition developed radically to embrace atonality. Webern was a young man of twenty-one when he wrote Im Sommerwind demonstrating his glorious grasp of the late-romantic composition process. Maestro Runnicles dug deep into the fabric of this opulent score maintaining a resilient pulse that achieved a magnificent overall structure. Notable was the deep sustained line of the double basses that opened the score, the details such as the varied colours of the bird-like woodwind figures and the glowing sound of the high strings.

I was less enamoured with Aribert Reimann’s Drei Lieder after poems by Edgar Allan Poe for soprano and orchestra, a substantial work written in the early 1980s, lasting around thirty minutes. American Soprano Laura Aiken dressed in blue taffeta gown was in tremendous form in these demanding songs with English texts, highly assured, displaying powerful projection and clear diction. ‘Silence: There are some qualities…’ the first song evoked a shadowy, near sinister sound world and the dark, threatening character of the lengthy second song ‘Dream-Land: By a route obscure and lonely…’ contained an unrelenting icy chill. The third song ‘To –: I heed not that my earthly lot…’ radiated a tender mood with an discernible underlying tension. Given the finest advocacy by Aiken and the talented players of the Deutschen Oper the Drei Lieder was not to my taste and rather overlong although I did enjoy the work in parts. Aribert Reimann was in the audience, sitting behind fellow composer Wolfgang Rihm, and was called to the stage to receive some generous applause.

After the interval the audience was treated to the Brahms Serenade No. 1 in D major, Op. 11, a splendid work from the twenty-five year old composer. The Serenade requires a large orchestra and is typically sacrificed on concert programmes to accommodate one of the four symphonies. Maestro Runnicles conducted crisp and direct playing of the six movements with a sure sense of line and texture together with an impeccable choice of tempi. Memorable was the exuberantly joyous first movement that contained suggestions of the joy of romance. With prominent parts for clarinets and horns the central Adagio imbued with a slightly serious tone could easily have represented the funeral of a close friend, not entirely wretched in mood as if looking back on a fruitful, happy life. Buoyant and cheerful the Finale, a Rondo- Allegro, contained a windswept feel. At the weighty and dramatic conclusion to the score it was noticeable how maestro Runnicles had been rewarded with his Berlin players maintaining such excellent playing and splendid unity.

Michael Cookson