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Wolfgang Rihm, Violin Concerto No.6 World Premiere

Poème du Peintre

Wolfgang Rihm is on—minimally—fire. He knocks out new, major works at a rate that it makes you wonder if anybody else is still composing at all, in Germany. A Horn Concerto in Lucerne, a Triple Concerto, the "Second" Piano Concerto (terrific, yet be reported on!) in Salzburg, and now his Sixth Violin Concerto*, written for and dedicated to Renaud Capuçon, performed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra [on Twitter] under Philippe Jordan and played in their new “Fridays@7” concert series at the Wiener Konzerthaus.

available at Amazon
W.Rihm (+A.Berg), Time Chant (+ VC),
A.S.Mutter / J.Levine / CSO

available at Amazon
W.Rihm (+S.Currier), WORK_in_QUESTION (+Time Machines etc.),
A.S.Mutter / NYPhil / M.Francis, A.Gilbert

That series is a stab at the short-form concert, aiming at about an hour’s length, without an intermission. So far that hour-thing has not quite worked out, as concert length is predictably, habitually underestimated… but whereas the first time around the concert was a whole work too long, this time it was just one movement too long. In any case, if that aimed-at-brevity weren’t laudable enough, the concert series also comes with booze and music at the optional long tail in the foyer downstairs, with a VSO band playing and/or soloists and the conductor performing in a reasonably relaxed atmosphere. On this occasion, the format meant that Schubert’s Fifth—part of the laudable Schubert Cycle of the VSO—was axed from the program also containing Dvořák’s Eight.

Having had a chance to watch the violin concerto come together throughout three rehearsals, it was enormous how much the work had developed by the time it hit the stage at prime time. Wolfgang Rihm took himself back for the first rehearsal, even though what he heard must have been a good deal from what he might have imagined. Only when orchestra and conductor had made the natural progress that occurs in rehearsal, did he more frequently interject, questioning stray notes that were either wrong in the printed score or the parts, and suggesting occasional interpretative adjustments. Repeated timpani notes toward the end of the concerto weren’t quite right to him. Helpfully, Jordan interpreted his request: “Oh, advancing like a steam engine?” Rihm, whose gigantic cranium makes him look like his own bobble-head figure, shook said head: “No—breathing, hovering, advancing. Like a thing, a being, like a creature.” Jordan: “Ok. One more time; this time more like a Thing!”

Just as Rihm has written the Piano Concerto specifically for and around Tzimon Barto, or violin concertos for the specific talents of Anne-Sophie Mutter and Carolin Widmann, Poème du Peintre is tailored to Renaud Capuçon. After the first rehearsal, the soloist suggested that it was really his language. It’s hard to say for me what that exactly is, not knowing Capuçon’s playing and style intimately enough. Perhaps it is the nervous, or rather: alert energy that is woven through the concert like a silver thread. The concerto’s name, “Painter’s Poem”, stems from the idea of composing a work that is to Max Beckmann’s portrait of Max Reger a concerto to portray Ysaÿe. Rihm and Capuçon both adore Ysaÿe (well beyond the—rightly—hailed solo violin sonatas), which might serve as the basis for the French violinist so taking to the work. The clichéd description of his performance, without any fear of saying something controvertible would be, and is: “totally committed”.

Other Reviews:

Chanda VanderHart, Pleasing Rihm and Dvorak from Capuçon and the Symphoniker, but 'concept' falters (bachtrack, January 11, 2015)
The concerto begins tentatively. On the surface it is considerably less French than the Piano Concerto from Salzburg (with its overt Chopin references and subtle air of Debussy creeping in). It is less overtly romantic and also a good deal less intuitively comprehensible. That’s not to say that it doesn’t come around and enchant the willing listener. The orchestra, for much of the almost continuous violin part, engages in color and contrast work, breathing and heaving and rhythmically advancing things to a searing solo-part. The general tone is, a few eruptions apart, and in spite of the tenacious soloist, soft-hued; the dissonances plush and more feathered than in-your-face. Then, a bit more than half-way through the 17-some minute work, there are crackling, gnarling, brassy chord that would open the gates to Mordor in a movie. There comes a short moment where it feels like a famous quotation (that on-the-tip-of-the-tongue-feeling); melting away, off to the side, Schnittke-style. Perhaps it’s one of the many presumed Ysaÿe-references and the only one that pierced the level of my awareness—just not wholly. The claves’ click-click solo of the percussionist was meant as an impulse for the soloist to take and play off it, but it did not quite yet come across as presumably intended. At least not in this first performance. But with any optimism, the work will get a decent amount of repeat performances (if less likely so as the repertoire-suitable piano concerto) and claves and violin will forevermore work in perfect, impulsive harmony.

available at Amazon
A.Dvořák, Symphony No.8,
M.Honeck / Pittsburgg SO
Reference Recordings

Post-Rihm Dvořák

None too thick, nor trying it on, thick (which is not the VSO’s modus vivendi, anyway) the ensuing Dvořák Eighth had plenty going for it, without being memorable. A well done, snappy first movement was enough to elicit spontaneous applause. The applause was quickly indignated-away with audibly rolling eyes and replaced with the traditional, acceptable deep-bronchial coughing. Vienna is, of course, all about tradition.

The second movement wasn’t so snappy, more episodic, and strikes as something like a step-sibling among the four movements. Not as inspiring perhaps, but also not as caringly taken to, by the executors. Still, it leads to the Moldau-like bubbly, flowing third movement which will sound familiar even to the rare lover of Dvořák who hasn’t, somehow, heard that particular symphony. The fourth movement (a great day for the tuba and its operator!) turned out playful, elegant, cute from indulgence, involving and above average. Tuba and bassoon earned a gold star; the rest or the orchestra got a big smiley, at least.

The aftermath, incidentally, turned out odd. The first Fridays@7 show, back in November, had the foyer of the Konzerthaus buzzing at full capacity, with a VSO-band keeping it swinging when Jordan and Khatia Buniatishvili weren't hotsying it up piano-duo style. This time, the post-concert gig wasn't announced from stage, which may have been in part the cause of only half as many people left in the foyer. That instantly changed the vibe from 'buzzing' to 'awkward', with people mulling around, listening to Brahms’ Piano Quintet, and leaving as soon as there was a break in the music. If you spoke a little, you even got hushed… turning it into a regular concert except in a tubby acoustic and minus the comfort of seats. Surely the exact opposite of what the intention of the casual post-concert music-making was meant to be.

The next Fridays@7 concert will feature John Adams as composer and conductor and take place on Friday, March 13th.

* Wolfgang Rihm’s concertography includes minimally 30 concertos, among them six violin concertos. They are, in chronological order, Lichtzwang (1976, in memoriam Paul Celan), Gesungene Zeit (1992, for Anne-Sophie Mutter), Dritte Musik (1993, in memoriam Kurt Kocherscheidt), Vierte Musik (2008, for Carolin Widmann), Lichtes Spiel (2009, for Anne-Sophie Mutter) and now Poème du Peintre (2014, forRenaud Capuçon)

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