Sunday, June 8, 2014

Variations on Knightly Character with Bychkov in the Digital Concert Hall

Delepelaire taking cue from Bychkov

"Fantastic Variation on a Theme of Knightly Character." This elaborate subtitle was a way for Richard Strauss to indicate that there was more going on in his tone poem called Don Quixote than an ear-movie based on Cervantes.

He could have subtitled the work "a really challenging piece for cello soloist." But that would not seem to hold true for the amazing young cellist Bruno Delepelaire, who joined the Berliner Philharmoniker as a resident cello soloist last November. Delepelaire made it look easy. But more importantly made the music sound graceful, charming, and believable. In a part filled with color and interaction with all corners of the orchestra, Delepelaire sought and found a meditative element in this depiction of a doomed idealist. Máté Szűcs impressed with the viola solo which he played while also leading the viola section. Szűcs resonated the wit and humor of his lines and blazed with the fluidity of his passagework. 

Commentators often talk about plot concept in this work, but the personality of motives and lines as they combine and transform are even more vivid. In the Berliner Philharmoniker, the musical personality of each soloist is so distinct that when Albrect Mayer play the G major "Dulcinea" line, or when Andreas Ottensamer leaned on the highest notes of the cadential gesture led by the clarinet, it sounded as authentic personality articulating authentic personality.

Conductor Semyon Bychkov inspired a "concerto for orchestra" concept.The interplay between chamber music intimacy and large ensemble sound was effective and insightful in this performance. A great place to study this elaborate layering was the music in F-sharp major in variation 3, where the orchestral weight suddenly leaned to reveal entwined  lines played by solo cello and oboe. During this variation there was also a carefully placed camera angle that caught the tambourine trill.

There are many colorful nuances in this score: places where only two desks of violins play divided. We could have used some additional wide-angle camera shots to help us contextualize these moments. The wide-angle camera views during Variation 7 and 10 were effective in this regard.

If you are new to this work, you cannot do better than to listen to the interval talk with Sarah Willis interviewing Delepelaire and Szűcs. Willis focused important details of the work while keeping things relaxed. In this work about personality we learned something of the personality of these musicians.

Don Quixote has one of the great quiet endings in the orchestral literature. Bychkov held onto the silence after the final notes had dimmed. The Don dies at the close of the work, and the peaceful sense of the music should make us wonder. Bychkov is great at articulating strangeness in music, and he caught this one perfectly.

It was a sense of strangeness that most stood out in this performance of Schubert's Great Symphony in C major. The terrifying moment when the second movement comes unhinged was also given a long pause by Bychkov. The pause made the cello line that followed seem like a Don Quixote moment of realization in Schubert.

Bychkov framed this central crisis by emphasizing the final gesture of the second theme group on either side of it. The hovering quality of these passages resonated and connected.

To listen for when this performance comes into the archive: Bychkov chose very clever tempo relationships not only within the first movement in the shift from the andante into the allegro non troppo, but also between movements. The entire symphony seemed made from variations developed from a root tempo.

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