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Delightful Mozart and Britten @ Konzerthaus Berlin

Berlin, Konzerthaus, March 2nd, 2014

If bright and airy and light and elegant are high on your list of qualities for what makes a concert hall beautiful, then Berlin’s Konzerthaus must be one of the most beautiful concert halls. Big enough to be sort of impressive; small enough to be intimate and versatile, and with 14 impressive chandeliers to take care of the splendid illumination.

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Britten, Les illuminations et al.
Sandrine Piau
Northern Sinfonia, T.Zehetmair

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Paul McCreesh, whose looks would not be out of place as a baddie in a Guy Ritchie film, led the Konzerthaus Orchestra – a smallish 34-head strong division thereof – in a buoyant and feathery rendition of one of the earliest masterpieces among Mozart’s Symphonies: K.201. The Andante, which can get long, quick, was lively enough and coy and the furiously shivering little finale was full of kick.

British and light in form (though hardly in content) and very fitting was Britten’s Les illumiations for high voice and string orchestra with Sandrine Piau as the soloist. She knew how to employ Rimbaud’s dramatic, quick-fire musical poem, including the high-wire acts and long stretches of pianissimo, to maximum enchanting effect. Her voice had an open, never nasal sound about it, with elegance and gorgeous substance. The cell phone boogie in the final poem, “Departure”, didn’t fit… but that, too, was overcome with style.

No other work so stands for “Mozart” to as many people as does the “Great” G-minor Symphony K.550. It is a constant tightrope-walk between cliché and trying too hard to avoid the cliché. And then there’s perhaps the danger of overthinking it. Better just to trust the music and play the hell out of it with a light touch and a lot of energy. Which is exactly what the Konzerthaus Orchestra under McCreesh did.

The natural horns were perhaps a tad outside the comfort zone (theirs and mine), but also warmed up from the earlier Mozart, where the infelicities had been still more notable. They certainly had character; much like Fozzie Bear in Harry Belafonte’s Muppet version of the Banana-Song. Sounds like a quibble but was part of a never-sagging delight all the way to the spirited Allegro assai finale.

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