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Ionarts-at-Large: MPhil and Dausgaard in White, Blue, and Orange

A very fine guest conductor, a superb soloist—not as a name, but as a musician (though in this case both)—and an intriguing, intelligent program in white, blue, and orange: Promising stuff for a concert of the Munich Philharmonic. And indeed Thomas Dausgaard and Leif Ove Andsnes in Kurtág, Beethoven, and Dvořák delivered with panache.

Kurtág’s quasi-Piano Concertino …quasi una fantasia… op.27/1, for pianist and groups of musicians strewn about the performing space, was commissioned by and written for the Berlin Philharmonic in 1988. It starts with simple downward scales on the piano, gently accented by percussion that sounds like Santa’s Reindeer resting for a bite of nutritious greens, accompanied by an Elf’s harmonica. Eventually a more agitated drum-tattoo calls the charming cacophonous Presto minaccioso e lamentoso to action. The marimba and dulcimer join with vaguely Hungarian flavors. Then brutally, out of nowhere, timpani and brass unite for a thunderous interruption in form of the Recitativo: Grave, disperato that evokes a war episode as might be found in Shostakovich, but more dramatic, not frenzied, and grimmer even. …quasi una fantasia… ends with the Aria – Adagio molto, as sweet and innocent and haunting as dew on the grass of the battle field, the morning after.

Only Beethoven whom I expected to pop up, given the overt references in title and opus number, didn’t show—or else so subtly that he eluded these ears. Kurtág’s music is fragile, wistful, weirdly sublime and it was ably so performed by the Munich Philharmonic players… and largely wasted on the dully coughing, flagrantly disinterested subscription audience.

available at Amazon Kurtág (& Kurtág/Bach), ...quasi una fantasia...,
I.Spinette / J.Michiels

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon L.v.B., Piano Ctos. 1 & 2, ,
B.Berezovsky / T.Dausgaard / Swedish CO

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available at Amazon A.Dvořák, Sys. 6 & 9,
T.Dausgaard / Swedish CO

UK | DE | FR
Beethoven, they agreed fortunately, was the good stuff. And it was indeed. The First Piano Concerto that followed the Kurtág is the very manifestation of the classical Beethoven; a perfect synthesis of clarity, beauty, and cogency. It’s hard to screw up, but Dausgaard, whose unfussy style is so well suited to Andsnes’—did much more than not bungle. Delicate and chamber-like, sensitive yet with philharmonic brawn, this was enchanting from the first notes. The speedy and immediate transition from the Largo into the Rondo finale established vast momentum never to be lost. Not terribly surprising to anyone who knows Dausgaard’s Beethoven cycle of the Symphonies and Concertos on Simax, which is one of the finest—along with Paavo Järvi’s and Osmo Vänskä’s. Andsnes, “one of the great understated innovators among pianists” who does so much with so little, contributed his part with a touch of granite and an air of Backhaus’ no-nonsense style. As an encore, he added the Allegretto from Beethoven’s sparkling slender two-movement Sonata op.54, which fitted the Kurtág-Beethoven trajectory perfectly.

The programming of Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony looked a little conventional on paper, after this first half, except for the fact that it’s not the overplayed, evergreen Eight or Ninth. It also fit well in with recent Munich performances of the Fifth (BRSO, Welser-Möst, excellent) and Seventh (MPhil, Orozco-Estrada, good-enough); a neat coincidence given the very un-German notorious lack of coordination among orchestras in town. The Brahmsian Sixth—published as Dvořák’s “Symphony No.1”—isn’t exactly exotic fare like the still-earlier works like, say, the ‘Wagner-Without-Words’ Third, but it’s far from becoming an example of hackneyed programming. When performed straight, precise, and aim-full, with a good slice of the qualities of the Beethoven retained (despite the romantic shape of its musical hips), it’s a delight. And all that in the second of four concerts—a.k.a. dress rehearsal—already! The rustic, humorous, boisterous, and earthy third movement (a Furiant) and the as-if-nothing-had-happened finale were splendid and a worthy finish to one of the strongest concerts of the Munich Philharmonic I have heard in quite some time.

Repeat performances today (Saturdya, 7PM) and tomorrow (Sunday, 11am).