Tchaikovsky Suite Takes the Honours in Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin Concert

GermanyGermany Aribert Reimann, Schumann, Tchaikovsky: JeanFrédéric Neuburger (piano), Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Tugan Sokhiev, Berlin Musikfest 2014, Philharmonie, Berlin 16.9.14 (MC)

Das Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin spielt am 6.12.2009 in der Berliner Philharmonie - wŠhrend des Konzerts wird eine Protestnote gegen den geplanten Zusammenschluss von RSB und DSO protestiert.

Aribert Reimann: Seven Fragments for Orchestra (In memoriam of Robert Schumann)
Schumann: Introduction and Concert-Allegro, Op. 134
Schumann: Introduction and Allegro appassionato, Op. 92
Tchaikovsky: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in G major, Op. 55

‘Concert dedicated to the memory of the orchestra’s former principal conductor Lorin Maazel.’

Formed back in 1946 as the RIAS Symphonie-Orchester by the American occupation forces in Berlin the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin deserves to be far better known. Had the orchestra management in 1989 replaced its principal conductor Riccardo Chailly with a truly world class conductor its profile would have been greatly enhanced. The DSO Berlin tends to live in the considerable shadow cast by their world famous neighbour, the Berliner Philharmoniker, but make no mistake this is a world class orchestra with a substantial popular following in Berlin.

This concert by the DSO Berlin under its music director Tugan Sokhiev contained one of the finest performances of any work I have heard this year but I found the uneven quality of works on the programme a drawback. As the Musikfest Berlin provides opportunities for works that are rarely heard or have become forgotten and also modern works I guess that is the reason for the inclusion in the programme of Schumann’s Introduction and Concert-Allegro and Introduction and Allegro appassionato and Reimann’s Seven Fragments for Orchestra.

Opening the concert was Aribert Reimann’s Seven Fragments for Orchestra given in the presence of the Berlin born composer. This is Reimann’s most frequently programmed score subtitled ‘In memoriam of Robert Schumann’ as it quotes from Robert Schumann’s final piano work, the Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations) WoO 24 composed just prior to his admission into a mental asylum. Creating a stormy sound world the orchestra’s playing evoked noisy rumbling, crashes and abrupt flashes like distant thunder and lightning with torrential rain. The subsequent respite from the angry, anxiety laden clamour was one of uncertain calm creating an unsettling quality. This recurring pattern of heightening and then lessening tension in itself felt eerily disconcerting. A plaintive solo flute call ended the work quietly. Reimann’s score is interesting and one that I’m glad to have heard. However despite receiving the greatest possible advocacy from the DSO Berlin, it failed to make an enduring impression containing nothing that hasn’t been done better before. Taking around fourteen minutes to perform it felt much longer.

With piano soloist Angela Hewitt the DSO Berlin under Hannu Lintu has recently released a fine recording of Schumann’s three works for piano and orchestra and clearly knows them well. The Piano Concerto in A minor is justly regarded as one of the finest concertos in the repertory and will virtually always be chosen in a concert programme over his two single movement works the Introduction and Concert-Allegro Op. 134 and the Introduction and Allegro appassionato, Op. 92. In fact this was the first time I had seen both these works programmed and I can fully understand why. French soloist JeanFrédéric Neuburger provided liberal amounts of both entertaining virtuosity with unfailing support from Sokhiev’s Berlin players, but take away the surface froth and the works lacked sufficient direction, without the all important element of memorability, leaving behind a curiously unsatisfying feel.

In a way similar to the Schumann works for piano and orchestra, opus 92 and 134 were overshadowed by the enduring admiration for the piano concerto, so Tchaikovsky’s four orchestra suites rarely get a look in when, with the same resources, a popular major symphony with guaranteed audience approval could be programmed instead. I became familiar with Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3’in G major, Op. 55 from the now evergreen mid-sixties recording by the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Antál Dorati but I never realised just how wonderful this work was until this performance under maestro Sokhiev’s assured baton. A delight from start to finish this stunning four movement Suite No.3 abounding with glorious melodies got off to a sunny start with the Elégie movement. Opening with an enchanting air of romance Sokhiev developed the passion to an almost indescribable level. During the truly lovely cor anglais solo which was a particular highlight I reflected on just how few people must have heard this glorious score. A chorus of three flutes opened the Valse mélancolique movement sending an icy chill down the spine, easily evoking a winter landscape of ice skating on a frozen Moscow river and a sense of melancholy infused the close of the movement. The intensity of playing from the Berlin strings contained such an elevated level of expression and unity as I ever remember hearing. Feeling brisk and fresh the Scherzo movement had a scurrying feeling which strengthened as the volume increased.

Sokhiev accepted with both hands the challenge of the finale, a theme and variations movement in twelve sections. Varied and attractive writing proliferated together with broad dynamic contrasts and surprising changes of tempi and mood; there was always something interesting happening. All sections of the orchestra and several solo instruments had opportunities to shine and shine they did. Impressive too was the wild gypsy-like solo from the leader that surprisingly changed into a lovely tender melody. Tchaikovsky certainly provided one of the most extended endings to a score humanly possible. With all the resulting drama the audience cheered and cheered redolent of the great success Tchaikovsky had when introducing the work in 1885. Maestro Sokhiev and his Berlin players are a thrilling combination and deserved every single ounce of the ovation. Fingers crossed for a recording of the Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3 or maybe even a complete set in the future.

Michael Cookson