Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pablo Heras-Casado in the Digital Concert Hall; Fabulous Berio, but Mendelssohn?

Pablo Heras-Casado led a concert of extremes in his Digital Concert Hall debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker. He positioned extremely familiar works by Mendelssohn (the Hebrides Overture, and the Symphony No. 3) to begin and end the event, and he placed two infrequently heard pieces (Karol Szymanowski's Symphony No. 4, and Berio's Quatre dédicaces) just before and after intermission.

Like a good hard candy, it was the center which was most pleasantly surprising. Pianist Marc-André Hamelin joined the orchestra as soloist in the Szymanowski, which, though it could be mistaken for a piano concerto, is actually numbered among Szymanowski's symphonies, and is nicknamed »Symphonie concertante.«

Hamelin approached the work in a chamber style and blended into the orchestra during many passages. This conception made the most concerto-like elements, like the ringing figuration of the first movement cadenza, or the brief trilled cadenza of the andante molto sostenuto, seem freshly improvised. Hamlin was also soulful in the dancing central passage of the third movement where he was able to create the isolated vortex of someone who dances to both remember and forget.

The Mazurka that he announced from the stage as his encore was actually the Mazurka Op. 50 No. 6 and is recorded on the disc of complete Mazurka's by Szymanowski that Hamelin recorded for Hyperion.

After intermission Heras-Casado treated us to the Quatre dédicaces for orchestra by Luciano Berio. The Berliner Philharmoniker is exploring a series of works by Berio this season, and this performance of these four brief, festive pieces was impressive. Heras-Casado played the four movements in the Boulez ordering.

The Fanfara was given in a stately tempo, with incredible detail in the trumpet playing. Heras-Casado extended the final tone played by the clarinets which gave the movement a dramatic close. I loved the quivering richness of texture in the Entrada, and Festum was played as a celebration of simultaneous ideas. This performance of the final movement, Encore, could easily become required material for the study of virtuoso orchestral balances.

The Mendelssohn was ok. Hebrides had a few memorable moments, and the last three movements of the third symphony were often quite good. Heras-Casado took too much time between the first and second, and the second and third movements, allowing energy to dissipate at those important junctions. The first movement missed the mark. Heras-Casado could not get the orchestra to play quietly. Listen for instance, to the opening of the development, marked sempre pianissimo. It is already quite loud, then during the crescendo it reaches maximum volume well in advance of the fortissimo marking. The only place the orchestra played quietly was the repeat of the exposition, and arguably at the opening of the recap. The result was that the first movement sounded thick and many great subtleties within the movement, like that lovely clarinet line that shadows the opening violin tune one octave lower (at the beginning of the first theme group) was completely covered.

The LA Philharmonic bested this performance in both works by Mendelssohn during their LA Phil Live in HD performance on October 9, that I reviewed on this blog.

The inner and outer portions of the event didn't harmonize well as a program either. Both works by Mendelssohn came across unfairly as a programming afterthought. It might have worked to open with Berio followed by Szymanowski with Mendelssohn on the second half. But the messaging with Mendelssohn first and last seemed all wrong.

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