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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 11 )
Philharmonia Orchestra 2 • Esa-Pekka Salonen

Berg • Strauss • Ravel • Esa-Pekka Salonen • Lawrence Power • Max Hornung

Power-ful, Wonderful, Versatile


After attending the very, very fine Philharmonia concert with Chirstoph Dohnányi, the orchestra’s appearance two days later, Saturday August 9th, with their other main conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, was just about mandatory. Getting in wouldn’t have been a problem in any case: there was Alban Berg on the program and therefore tickets available. Don Quixote, the tone poem-cum-one-and-a-half-concerto (as opposed to “Double”) for cello and viola of Richard Strauss’ isn’t a big pull, either… nor its primary soloist that morning—very fine a musician though he is—Maximilian Hornung.

Sancho and the Sheep

The violist isn’t going to make a difference when it comes to selling tickets, either, but the choice of having a dedicated soloist for the tricky viola part, rather than letting the first violist of the orchestra scrape by (no offense) is huge, can’t have been easy (considering orchestra politicking), and was most warmly welcomed! Getting Lawrence Power, one of the more scrupulously musical string players—never mind violists!—around, sent waves of sweet anticipation through me, the same which could not be said about the piece itself. Playing not next to the soloist but from amid the orchestra, so as not to look too silly (not that a silly-looking Sancho Panza would be all that out of place) as honorary section leader, Power utterly seduced the ears to the point of view of Sancho with his gorgeous, witty playing.

available at Amazon
A.Berg, 3 Orchestral Pieces et al.
D.Gatti / RCO
RCO Live

available at Amazon
R.Strauss, Don Quixote, Till E.
M.Stenz / A.Gerhardt, L.Power
Strange piece, with many quite modern touches that bears dissonant, blaring, and atmospheric surprises for the listeners (the cacophonous brass sheep are hilarious!) and then surprises again with vast expanses of Straussian lushness that could feature in Frau ohne Schatten. A little weird and difficult and ungrateful for the players, it’s still kind of glorious, actually, when performed with such conviction. The first violinist, who also has an extended bit to play, too, was not quite in his Four-Last-Songs-form, but still an equal enough partner to Hornung and Power. Hornung was unafraid of rough and ungainly sounds, found into the work soon enough, and made much, if not the most, of it. The latter became obvious when he was outshone by his viola-sidekick who has considerably less (but perhaps the more memorable) music.

Exciting and Exacting

Esa-Pekka conducted the attacks of the Präludium of Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces op.6 so vigorously that on a stabbing move the baton flew out of his hands and pierced the second violin section leader right through the heart, killing her on the spot. The orchestra didn’t miss a beat. There was see-through transparency in that first movement, a restrained kind of gorgeousness in the Reigen (such truly romantic music), and Mahlerian-apocalyptic in the final Marsch. Even the mallet and box from Mahler’s Sixth came in handy.

Maurice Ravel’s La Valse started cool and became increasingly merciless… which I thought bloody fantastic and afterwards had to disagree with a pair of much respected and discerning ears that thought the whole affair was too damn unromantic, technocratic and not even perfectly together. What I heard, at least—having been in a good and perhaps generous mood—was a bone-breaking, fist-clenching Valse that showed just how little fun and how much anguish there really can be, in this Poème choréographique of sorrowful remembrance. The Philharmonia, certainly, came away from those two concerts looking wonderful and versatile.

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