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Ionarts-at-Large: Penderecki's New Double Concerto

On November 15th and 16th, under the eyes of the composer, Julian Rachlin and Janine Jansen gave the German premiere of Krzysztof Penderecki’s brand new Double Concerto which had received its world premiere in Vienna just a few weeks earlier. The last time I heard Julian Rachlin première a work it was Giya Kancheli’s Ciaruscuro for Soloist, a concerto for violin and viola, but, as the name indicates, just for one player. Penderecki’s Double Concerto, inspired by, if not exactly modeled on, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, also opts for violin and viola, but two players. Rachlin picked the viola part which puts Janine Jansen on violin. They could just as well have traded the parts, given that Jansen, according to Rachlin, plays a mean viola, except she doesn’t because “she’s too lazy to carry a double case” (see “I Always Wanted to be a Cellist”, Playbill Arts) and sticks to the violin, instead.

Jansons’ Beethoven on ionarts:

Symphony No.3 / Shchedrin, Heiligenstadt Testament Fragments WP (20.12.08)

Symphonies Nos.6 & 2 / Misato Mochizuki, Nirai WP (17.12.12)

Symphonies Nos.7 & 8 / Widmann, Con Brio WP (24.10.08)

Symphony No.9 / Kancheli, Dixi, WP (7.11.09)

Symphony No.3 / Shchedrin, Self-Portrait Variations (20.10.12)
The 25 minute concerto begins as a soft conversation between the two instruments trading soft flageolets and pizzicatos back and forth. From tenderness it moves quickly to heated passion and after a while the full orchestra joins the two exposed soloists and their acerbic-yet-lyrical lines. It’s a melodic piece, technically challenging to both soloists, and often with pedal points in the low strings of the orchestra where the melodies go to the winds, especially the flute. With the BRSO audience on the slightly more adventurous side than that of the other orchestras in conservative Munich (except for the re-invented MKO), the work and the temperate tension it places on the ears found the approval of the audience. The presence of the composer always helps, of course.

Penderecki’s intricately and deeply romantic language came out even more overtly in the encore Rachlin and Jansen provided: the superb Chaconne, composed for Rachlin like the concerto, a work filled with the fragile beauty of woven silvery question marks and indeed one of the finest pieces for solo violin and viola I have heard.

Beethoven framed Penderecki. The Egmont Overture to open; grooving the groves and jumping the jumps, at its worst might have been pandering to the obvious, but it was also good fun with its military clatter-a-crack and the brash brass. The Seventh Symphony, unlike the Sixth a week earlier (review here), was 21st century Beethoven, the crisp and a lean kind, muscular, explosive and with edges, in this case also full bodied and with all hands on deck for the brawn necessary to fill the modern concert hall. Not that the Herkulessaal is modern, or that big, and ready for anything but mothballing. Only the comfortable new chairs might be worth salvaging if the city ever decides to bother with a proper venue for Symphonic classical music.

Wobbly winds and overly excited horns aside, a visibly and audibly healthy Jansons led the BRSO in the kind of performance that leaves one admiring the music and forget the interpretation rat race for a while. It wasn’t the most novel or even the most exciting approach, but it was just the thing to bring out of the majestic and the simple, deeply felt beauties of Beethoven in the moment.