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Ionarts-at-Large: Ligeti Supplants Beethoven - BRSO & Sakari Oramo

The Ligeti experience:
available at Amazon
G.Ligeti, Concert Românesc et al.,
Nott / Berlin Phil
It is sad that Haydn, who I always like to see (if not always hear) on a Symphony Orchestra’s program, was the victim of the conductor-change—Sakari Oramo for the ill-disposed Mariss Jansons. But then it was well made up for in the BRSO’s second concert of the season by including instead György Ligeti’s “Concert Românesc” for Orchestra. It’s very, very early Ligeti, and especially the first movement sounds like straight forward folksy, a Bartók-influenced romantic concerto fully within the harmonic boundaries of music from the 19th century. In the second movement we get a first brief, eerie buzz from the solo violist that one could (want to) see as foreshadowing his later work. As the brief, energetic work moves on, we get more and more of haze and ambiguity, birds twittering among long-distance horn calls that create the atmosphere of a lost symphonic movement by Mahler. The work is terrific, just as its execution under Oramo was, and the orchestra presented itself in a particularly colorful mood.

Most exciting 9th on record:
available at Amazon
DSCH, Symphony No.9,
Kosler / CzPO
(+ 'fake' Mravinsky 5th)
Chant du Monde
Next up Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony. Perhaps, perhaps DSCH wanted to one-up Stalin & Co with his Ninth, as claimed in and oft-quoted from Shostakovich’s utterly fraudulent ‘memoirs’ (courtesy Solomon Volkov). Naturally the political class expected something in the grand, overwhelming and pathos-laden tradition of Beethoven or Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler. The Ninth as a ‘great’ symphony, as a monumental statement… in this case also a claim to victory in World War II. But they would have expected that, even if DSCH didn’t mean to make a political statement. More likely, in any case, it was DSCH’s personal, non-political way of dealing with the looming forbearers of ‘Ninths’ that made him compose a quintessential anti-Beethovenish Ninth. Bruckner quipped about his Sixth Symphony to be the “sauciest”… well, that’s certainly true for Shostakovich’s Ninth. A short little firecracker of a classical symphony, it’s no more than thirty highly entertaining and amusing minutes long, more fit to consecrate a Ferris wheel than to celebrate the triumph of Soviet-heroism over Nazi-evil.

The symphony starts like a slapstick film with Charlie Chaplin and morphs, over five movements, to something more melancholic; more towards Buster Keaton. (Indeed, one Soviet critic complained much later about being presented in the Ninth with a “frivolous Yankee instead of the picture of a victorious Soviet comrade.”) The idea of Mariss Jansons, well possibly the foremost Shostakovich-conductor of our time, performing the Ninth here and then was very tempting. (On his recording cycle, the early 9th with the Oslo Philharmonic is not a good example of Jansons at his Shostakovich-best.) It was a fine achievement of Saramo’s to not make us miss Jansons in the first and third movements, where all the kicking liveliness and lurking dystopia was present, and splendid solo contributions from the BRSO players to boot. But the second, fourth, and fifth movements were sagging, lulled where they should have pulled, and missed that last kick that should never leave the piece, even in its slower, grayer moments.

The Perahia that couldda been:
available at Amazon
LvB, Piano Concertos 3 & 4,
Perahia / Haitink / RCO
Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto—part of the complete concerto cycle of the BRSO this year—was to have been played by Murray Perahia (followed by Paul Lewis, András Schiff, Maria João Pires, and Mitsuko Uchida in that cycle). He, too, had to bail out and a certain Francesco Piemontesi stepped in. He received a very generous reception from the audience after all was played and done, but the opening notes, unaffected by confidence, led to little more than dexterous anonymity, dotted with occasional, superb little touches and an equal amount of smudges. The slow movement was at once the most interesting in its interpretively oh-so-romantic way, but the tone Piemontesi elicited from the Hamburg Steinway was clattery, clanky, and bright. It didn’t in any true sense replace what one would hope Perahia to have deliverd.

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