On Saturday night I caught up with the Berlin Philharmonic
at the Philharmonie in a concert led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin of music of
Berio, Chaikovsky, and Ravel. This was my first visit to the Philharmonie and
one of the first times I’d heard the Philharmoniker live conducted by someone
other than their current music director Simon Rattle. My impression of their last performance with Sir Simon (in Carnegie Hall) was decidedly mixed, of technical brilliance
lacking in any perceptible heartbeat. This was also the first time I’d heard
Nézet-Séguin conduct outside the Met, and he, the orchestra, and the concert
hall all left me very impressed indeed.
The program opened with Berio’s Sequenza IXa for solo
clarinet, and odd choice but apparently they are gradually performing the whole
cycle of Sequenze. The Philharmonie’s wonderful acoustics allowed lone clarinetist
Walter Seyfarth to resonate clearly even at the softest dynamics. I know this
piece from, um, playing it (only casually), and Seyfarth’s account was
technically impeccable and extremely clearly thought through. Clarinet
multiphonics (the closest we can get to a double stop) are unreliabe and wheezy
at best but Seyfarth’s were rock solid. Motives
and structures were clearly defined, but nonetheless it was a bit more an
austere plateau than a collection of giant hairpins.
Perhaps they chose the clarinet sequenza because the next
piece, Chaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet
Fantasy Overture, opens with a clarinet solo. I don’t know. Anyway, this
Chaikovsky was magical, taken with big ultra-Romantic pathos and rubato and
schmaltz and all that kind of thing that I like in Chaikovsky and occasionally find
suspect in Korngold. Nézet-Séguin took a glutinous approach to the transitions
that made the piece more smooth than exciting, but the orchestra’s considerable
virtuosity and precision in the fight portions was exciting enough. After my
recent spate of neat freak conductors it was nice to hear someone really go for
the emotional payoffs, and the horns’ countermelody was a thing of wonder.
Maybe it was the remnants of jet lag but I have to admit my
attention drifted at a few points during Ravel’s complete Daphnis et Chloe—not that it isn’t very beautiful music but I might
be in favor of performing the suite versions in this case. The orchestra here
sounded more like the one I knew from Rattle, light and precise (even in the
trickiest passages in the winds, including wonderful wind solos and one
slightly wonky violin one), and yet, when required, very very loud.
Nézet-Séguin showed the same flexibility as in the Chaikovsky but also the
needed delicacy. The ahs emanating from the Rundfunk Chor Berlin were also
excellently balanced with each other and the orchestra.
I find many modern concert halls alienating, but the
Philharmonie’s nooks and cranies were fun. It’s like hearing a concert in a
This concert is included in the Philharmoniker’s Digital Concert Hall and will soon be available ondemand if you’d like to see it yourself.
Berliner Philharmoniker, Philharmonie, 6/16/12. Yannick
Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Walter Seyforth, clarinet, Rundfunk Chor Berlin.
Berio, Sequenza XIa; Tchaikovsky/Chaikovsky, Fantasy Overture on Romeo and Juliet; Ravel, Daphnis et
Chloe (complete ballet)