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Notes from the 2012 Salzburg Festival ( 14 )
Lutosławski, Simon Rattle, Berlin Phil

Berlin Philharmonic • Sir Simon Rattle

Accompanied by Lutosławski’s Third Symphony, Brahms’ Piano Concerto in B-flat looked like the pacification of the kind of Berlin Philharmonic-attending Festival audience member who has booked the tickets based on the orchestra’s reputation alone, and booked a table at the Goldener Hirsch for right after intermission. Surprisingly few of them seemed to have made such modern-music-avoiding reservations, though judging by comments overheard, the in-performance coughing, premature exits, and the very tame applause after the Lutosławski, a few more may have wished they had.

available at Amazon
W.Lutosławski, Symphony No.3, Les Espaces du Sommeil,
W.Lutosławski / BPh / Fischer-Dieskau

available at Amazon
W.Lutosławski, Symphonies No.3 & 4, Les Espaces du Sommeil,
E-P.Salonen / LA Philharmonic / Shirley-Quirk

What has Brahms’ war-horse of a piano concerto to do with the 20th century garnish on offer in the second half? I wouldn’t know. It’s one way, I suppose, to slap the “Salzburg contemporary” label on another concert and claim that modern music has been better served than ever. (Lutosławski, incidentally, presumably, would love to be contemporary.) Should one be happy—if so inclined—that there’s any Lutosławski at all after the Brahms, or befuddled what Brahms is doing on the menu in the first place? As was, the concert probably disappointed every listener who had come for either/or. It didn’t help that the Brahms concerto wasn’t performed particularly well—not that the indiscriminately hollering audience-reaction reflected that. Apart from the impressive string entries in the finale, there was very little of that razor-blade-like sharpness and exactitude that makes the Berlin Philharmonic under Rattle (including their unique, spectacular Brahms Symphony cycle) often so exciting. That seemed to have infected Yefim Bronfman, too, whose matter-of-factly non-interpretation was surprisingly shoddy and several steps below what I last heard from him in that concerto with Salonen and the BRSO, barely two months ago.

The Lutosławski Third Symphony is a work full of cluttering slides, xylophone hiccups, brass chorales, wind-lamentos, flute-flutterers, and string pedal points. With a bit too much imagination, it could be thought of as the third Act of Tristan as performed by a very impatient orchestra of amateur-musician farm animals. In my had I saw an animated short film by Nick Park, creater of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run. Lutosławski’s use of “limited aleatory”, improvisation within set parameters, contributes to the sense of organized chaos. It’s more challenging listening than his downright populist Concerto for Orchestra, but a rewarding trip for any set of open ears. The Berlin Philharmonic, which has played and recorded the work still under the composer’s baton—showed impressively which work all the rehearsal time had gone into.

Secretly, almost mischievously I had hoped for the encore to be a da capo performance of the half-hour symphony… which would have done legions for the comprehension of the work. But Simon Rattle didn’t feel sadistic at around 11PM at night and threw in, as a bonbon for the poor and mildly disturbed Lutosławski-averse patrons, two and a half minutes of a Slavonic Dance by Dvořák. A nice gesture, but effectively erasing, with its damn catchiness, the memory of the Symphony.

Picture courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Wolfgang Lienbacher