Evenings of Supreme Enjoyment
Hong Kong Cultural Center, Tsim Sha Tsui
Anton Webern: Passacaglia, Op. 1
Alban Berg: Violin Concerto
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
Christian Tetzlaff (Violin)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Ingo Metzmacher (Conductor)
The 2009 Hong Kong Arts Festival came to an end with two evenings of supreme enjoyment brought by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and their Music Director Ingo Metzmacher. No matter if it was the extremely romanticized Bruckner and Wagner in the first evening, or the extraordinarily refined Webern and Brahms in the second, the memorable inspiration from these performances were certainly enough to last for lifelong.
Like the first evening, where Maestro Metzmacher chose music by Wagner, Mahler, and Bruckner, this superb German orchestra continued inheriting their glorious Austro-German tradition by embracing two pieces of the Second Viennese School in the first half. Anton Webern’s Passacaglia, his first official publication, was composed during the time when he was still Schoenberg’s pupil. Obviously, this title pays tribute to his Austro-German ancestors such as Bach and Brahms. Maestro Metzmacher clearly realized this by bringing to the surface Webern’s provocative polyphonic intricacy without compromising his colorful timbre and variegated sonorities. Being devoted to contemporary compositions, this distinguished conductor was also very aware of the music’s architecture by fluently joining disparate sections into a unified artwork, turning every climax to an inevitable outcome of what had gone before. The most stunning quality of the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester’s infallible rendition was their transparent texture and lucid balance, heightened by the intimate woodwinds, warm brass, and silky strings.
Supreme textual transparency, the paramount element of any great orchestra, was DSO’s most remarkable property throughout the two evenings. It was this property that contributed to a consummate reading of Berg’s Violin Concerto. Alban Berg was Schoenberg’s other pupil, and this Violin Concerto, inspired by the death of Mahler’s daughter (described as an angel by Berg), was composed in 1935, the year Berg died. The concerto premiered in 1936 with its commissioned violinist Louis Krasner as soloist and Anton Webern enlisted as the conductor. However, Webern was shaken by Berg’s recent death to conduct his friend’s last work, and premiere was replaced by another German conductor: Hermann Scherchen.
Violinist Christian Tetzlaff was another musician who showed immense interest in bringing contemporary music to the spotlight. He was natively attuned to Berg’s emotional profundity and the dodecaphonic setting. Although this masterpiece is based on the twelve-tone system, Mr. Tetzlaff never comprised the music’s rapt lyricism and enchanting cantabile style. With his virtuosic technique, the technical hurdles were dispatched without concession to difficulty, despite his occasional scratchy tone during the loud and blistering passages. Mr. Tetzlaff seemed more intent on mining the music’s lyrical tenderness than on its inherent drama. His creamy and mellow intonation, together with the finely polished accompaniment by the DSO, personified every vestige of this “angel-inspired” concerto with glamorous pulchritude. To respond to audience’s enthusiastic applause, Mr. Tetzlaff generously rendered the third Largo movement from Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in C major. His expressive and luxuriated interpretation and the trademark creamy tone caressed every attendee’s ears and soul with warm blessings.
Brahms’ 4th Symphony, just like Bruckner’s 7th Symphony the previous evening, was an impeccable reading that found wonderfully felicitous inflections of dynamics, tempo and phrasing in all the voices, indicating Maestro Metzmacher’s questing musical mind at work. Besides perfection, I could think of no other words to describe the occasion that is unlikely to imagine the piece being played better than this account. It is indeed very difficult to find a rivalry to compete in excellence, judging by the intonation, balance, and wealth of musicianship these players showed on the stage. Every part of the orchestra was magnificently polished with extremely refined details, and, when brought together, they were integrated into a unified virtuoso with one frame of mind. The strings were always silky and suave, the woodwinds were intimate and light-aired, the brass was warm and burnished but never jarring. Rarely in my experienced has such immaculate orchestral intonations been so perfectly combined. From the first theme of the opening movement with utmost delicacy and lyricism, to the sweeping coda of the last movement with glorious and majestic grandeur, hardly a bar went by without the DSO and Mr. Metzmacher exploring ecstatic and wondrous realms of musicality and spirituality. As the DSO sounded the last note with a triumphant ending, the entire audience raved with roaring and stamping ovation to certify this truly unforgettable rendition. To resolve the climax, the orchestra chose Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 6 to bring the curtain down. It is Hong Kong audience’s felicity to witness Friday and Saturday’s concerts that were a lifelong memory of supreme enjoyment.
Danny Kim-Nam Hui