The music of Xenakis makes a truly elemental impression in Berlin

09/09/2019

Musikfest Berlin [5] – Eötvös, Xenakis, and Varèse: Isabelle Faust (violin), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Peter Eötvös (conductor). Philharmonie, Berlin, 8.9.2019. (MB)

Eötvös – Violin Concerto No.3, ‘Alhambra’ (2018)
Xenakis – Shaar (1983)
Varèse – Amériques (performing version of the 1922 manuscript, by Chou Wen-chung)

Hot on the heels of two Peter Eötvös ensemble works at the Kammermusiksaal, many in the audience made their way to the larger hall of the Philharmonie proper, for the second German performance of his Third Violin Concerto, ‘Alhambra’, the local premiere having taken place the night before. Opening, as it closes, with solo violin (Isabelle Faust), it is perhaps surprisingly evocative of the colours and music of southern Spain. This is a walk around the Alhambra’s gardens with antecedents, suggested if never explicit, in Falla, Ravel, and Debussy, as well, perhaps, as Mussorgsky’s promenading. Eötvös employs the orchestra sparingly, hints of a Szymanowskian tapestry or something harder-edged, even Stravinskian, in the air, yet never quite determining the climate. Other solo strings come to the fore: violins, double bass, and mandolin; but so do woodwind and brass, clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer’s arabesquing especially noteworthy. Bells are both suggested and heard, the latter thereby well prepared as music rather than effect. There is something, perhaps inevitably, of Berg to certain, more innig passages, but also to repeated chains of intervals. Ciphers of ‘Alhambra’, ‘Isabelle’, and ‘Faust’ are, apparently concealed, but I should need to listen again, and/or to consult the score, to have them revealed to me. That, on the basis of this performance, I should happily undertake. (I should also like to know, if anyone can oblige, what Faust’s encore was.)

Xenakis’s Shaar, for string orchestra, made a truly elemental impression, its opening lines as striking as any unison in Bruckner, the feelings of awe engendered, maintained, and transformed actually not so very different as some might expect from those inspired by the latter composer. Not that the music really has anything in common, of course; it is what it is, proudly, starkly so – and so it sounded in this Berlin Philharmonic performance under Eötvös, its granitic drama, both earthly and unearthly, inviting comparison with a Hebraic past summoned in the title. Clusters, swarms, ritual; imbued with an implacable sense of rightness, yet never predictable: work and performance alike brooked no dissent. The BPO had never played the work before; it should do so again soon. More Xenakis everywhere, please!

There was likewise no doubting the distinction of the Berliners’ performance of Varèse’s Amériques, Eötvös doing much to highlight the work’s musical interest, not least its debts – some might put it more strongly than that, especially in this first version – to Stravinsky, and to The Rite of Spring in particular. Innovation with timbre notwithstanding, I wish I found the work itself more convincing. Leaving aside its frankly irritating whistles and sirens, the form of what Eötvös ably delineated as a twentieth-century tone poem continues to elude me. The sheer volume and exuberance of Amériques remain quite a thing, of course, but it does go on a bit. Perhaps its placing after the iron discipline of Xenakis was the problem.

Mark Berry

Comments

Comments

  1. Alexandra Ivanoff says:

    Faust’s encore was George Rochberg’s “Caprice-Fantasy”

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! IMS Prussia Cove: Autumn Tour 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Carnegie Hall 2019-2020 Season Highlights __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! SOPRANO ANGELA GHEORGHIU IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Loki’s Madam Butterfly can be seen in Alton and London this September __________________________________
  • NEW! The Joys of the Marlboro Music Festival: Chamber Music’s Best-Kept Secret __________________________________
  • NEW! MATTHEW BOURNE’S ROMEO AND JULIET IN CINEMAS FROM 22 OCTOBER __________________________________
  • NEW! CELLIST JOHANNES MOSER IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! CHORUS MASTER STEPHEN DOUGHTY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • REVIEWED! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • MULTI-FACETED MUSICIAN JOY LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • ‘MUSICAL MAGIC’: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST HENNING KRAGGERUD __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month