A rather mixed-bag concert by the Staatskapelle Berlin and Oksana Lyniv

GermanyGermany Wagner, Liszt, Silvestrov, and Prokofiev: Yury Shadrin (piano), Staatskapelle Berlin, Oksana Lyniv (conductor). Pierre Boulez Saal, Berlin, 30.10.2019. (MB)

Wagner –Siegfried-Idyll

Liszt – Malédiction, S 121

Valentin Silvestrov – Serenade, for string orchestra

Prokofiev – Symphony No.1 in D major, Op.25, ‘Classical’

Something of a mixed bag, this, in terms of programming and interpretation, but there was no doubting either the excellence of the Staatskapelle Berlin or the technical ability of Oksana Lyniv to secure what she wanted from the players, right down to a diminuendo on the final chord of the Siegfried-Idyll. Lyniv seemed least at home in this piece, although Wagner lies at the heart of the orchestra’s daily endeavours. Its opening moulded to the point of mannerism, the work’s melos, as Wagner would have put it, often felt suffocated, however warm and beautiful the playing. Too often, Lyniv’s interpretative stance amounted to pushing forward and then pulling back, whether within a phrase or paragraph; it was flexible, yes, without the bumpiness and rigidity lesser hands bring to Wagner, but never sounded quite at ease. Extremes of tempo sounded applied to the music rather than arising from within. Still, there were plenty of moments to savour: the sheer beauty of violin trills, blend and character from the wind, richness of cello tone, and so forth.

Yury Shadrin joined the orchestra’s strings, now greater in number, for Liszt’s so-called ‘Malédiction’: more properly the Concerto for piano and strings in E minor, on which Liszt worked throughout the 1830s. In a few preceding words, Shadrin wisely counselled the audience not to approach this curious work from the standpoint of the composer’s later (numbered) piano concertos: masterpieces, of course, and yet masterpieces still denied by Liszt’s cultured despisers. I welcomed the opportunity to hear the work for the first time in concert, though I cannot help but wonder what some in the audience would have made of it. Hearing it, as Shadrin suggested, as the music of a composer making his way in the world was surely the best course of listening. He and Lyniv offered admirable clarity and structural understanding in a gestural performance of a daringly experimental work that convinces more at some times than others. Muscular virtuosity here is a sine qua non; so too, however, is exquisite sensitivity, the intimacy of chamber music: readily heard, for instance, in the piano’s shadowing of the cellos in a strange, recitative-like section, on which so much subsequently depends. If, ultimately, the work as it comes down to us might benefit from an editor, that too is part of its charm. A starkly non-, even anti-Romantic Mendelssohn ‘Spring Song’ followed as an encore, oddly provoking laughter from some in the audience.

String orchestra, minus piano, returned to the stage after the interval for Valentin Silvestrov’s Serenade. Lyniv clearly believed in this 1978 score, leading what sounded to me a performance as understanding as it was committed; once again, motivic working and broader structure were brought clearly, vividly to life. For me, its slow, gloomy – and then not so gloomy – neo-Romanticism long overstayed its welcome. If you like lengthy series – certainly not in the Schoenbergian sense! – of repeated string chords, this may have been your sort of thing. I found myself waiting for something to happen that never did. Ultimately, it sounded as though it was waiting for its c.1995 Channel 4 television drama to which it might act as a vaguely ‘atmospheric’ accompaniment.

Prokofiev burst onto the scene with much-needed relief from his Classical Symphony. If the first movement was not free of occasional mannerism – a sudden pianissimo that seemed to shout, ‘hear me’ – then that worked perfectly well as idiomatic archness. As precise as it was bubbling with charm, the movement’s formalism was relished, enabling the listener to do so too. Lyniv’s moulding of the second movement again proved in keeping with material and style. Relinquishing the baton here, as she had for the Siegfried-Idyll, led to an inordinately balletic display onstage, which tempted me to shut my eyes. If visually distracting, though, it was not musically so. The minuet went faster than often we hear: not necessarily the worse for it, so long as it is considered straightforwardly jolly rather than subtly grotesque. For the finale, another very fast tempo worked well, breathlessness, for once, no bad thing in the revelation of Prokofiev’s singular brand of neoclassicism. Orchestral playing proved as colourful and as well-drilled as one could have wished for.

Mark Berry

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