Unmemorable Berlin Philharmonic Concert at Carnegie Hall

United StatesUnited StatesSchumann, Haas  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle (conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York 10.6.2014 (JR)

Schumann:   Symphony No. 4
Haas:              dark dreams
Schumann:   Symphony No. 3 (“Rhenish”)

Schumann’s Fourth Symphony isn’t his Fourth at all, it’s a mis-numbering: it’s actually one of his earlier works. It lacks the inspiration of the Third Symphony and whilst the Berliners played with all their usual quality and finesse, I felt Sir Simon’s heart wasn’t really in this piece. Impressive were the quivering cellos in the first movement, which was lively throughout. The leader’s solo contribution in the slow movement was delightful, but the trio of the Scherzo never sprang to life. Only the final movement stirred the soul. Rattle opted for Schumann’s original version preferring it for its “lightness, grace and beauty” – Brahms appears to have agreed. I remained less convinced.

I might add that this was, being a visitor from Zurich, my first ever visit to Carnegie Hall. I have to say I was disappointed with the woolly acoustics at the rear of the Parquet (in the second half I went upstairs where the air-conditioning is exceptionally fierce but the sound infinitely preferable).

Georg Friedrich Haas’ tone poem “dark dreams” is the first orchestral work this composer has written in his new home of New York City, having been appointed Professor at Columbia University in September last year. The performance was a US premiere, commissioned by Carnegie Hall and the Berlin Philharmonic. Reports had reached me of the European premiere from a music-lover who having heard the piece, rather wished he hadn’t: I took a more lenient view. The piece is easy to comprehend: the dream-like sequences evoke the heavy traffic of downtown Manhattan with its continual sirens, some more sinister air-raid sirens, and general noise. Unwanted electronic sounds in the hall added to the music’s mystery (perhaps the massed hearing aids of the audience?).  The piece has plenty to hold one’s attention, though outstayed its welcome.  The work comes to an abrupt end – as on waking up suddenly after a bad dream. The percussion section was asked to play extremely loud – Rattle has a penchant for loud and unpleasant music, I will never forget my eardrums being battered in the Festival Hall by Messaien’s “Et exspecto  resurrectionem mortuorum” but perhaps I was unwise to sit in the Choir.

This was very much a concert of two halves: the Schumann Third Symphony was fine. The opening movement’s sweeping theme was splendidly played, the rich brass (especially the horns) were impressively lip-fault free and sounded as one. Rattle was a bundle of energy and grimace on the podium and the orchestra responded. Their combined sense of the music’s infectious rhythm, particularly in the final movement, brought a smile to everyone’s face.

Somewhat surprisingly, there were no encores.


John Rhodes

It is rare for an orchestra in New York, at least, to perform encores [ed]

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