Why are some caskets closed when I wake up?

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra : Caskets full of trinkets

Why 200 years ago piano concertos in particular were often given princely nicknames - even if not from the composers themselves - one can only speculate: Does the festive, pearly character of the instrument have something that supports the state? "Emperor" is the name of Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto in English-speaking countries, and Mozart's D major Concerto KV 537, written in 1788, was later called the "Coronation Concerto", although it was never officially performed to enthrone Leopold II and Mozart probably not either wrote the occasion. Rather, it was more to rekindle its popularity among Viennese audiences, which was already dwindling at this point in time.

The solemn work, which is ambiguous due to numerous chromatic modulations in the minor key, fits perfectly into a New Year's Eve concert. However, in their main program at the turn of the year, the Berliner Philharmoniker only present one other composer besides Mozart: Maurice Ravel. That could be called ascetic if it weren't for four fiery numbers from Bizet's “Carmen”, this all-purpose weapon in operatic history, as encores.

New Year's Eve concerts are a matter for the boss, but what do you do when it is - Simon Rattle is gone, Kirill Petrenko will only start in summer 2019 - there is none? Daniel Barenboim, who is still incredibly busy at the age of 76 and has been familiar to the orchestra for half a century, will be ready in Berlin; his debut with the Philharmoniker as a pianist was in 1964, as a conductor in 1969. The fact that he was twice in the running as chief conductor, but then did not get it and at the end of the Rattle era did not want to be anymore, never tarnished the partnership.

The maestro conducts from the piano, as was customary around 1800

Barenboim is now a soloist in Mozart's concerto and conducts from the piano, as was customary around 1800. And after the orchestra has presented the main theme, it immediately finds a charming, spherical tone in the concise, four times repeated D of the right hand, which gives the theme a catchy rhythm and pulling power. He doesn't have to conduct a lot, the Philharmonic is very familiar with the piece: sometimes a further swing with his arm, sometimes modeling a detail with the hand, but often he can just leave the musicians to their own devices. The orchestra approaches its part with a certain vehemence, mostly brisk, dynamic and quite unambiguous - in significant contrast to the soloist Barenboim. He treads the opposite path over three sentences, becomes more and more otherworldly, more remote, and lets the theme of the Allegretto arise out of nowhere. And still gives the audience in some passages that jovial Mozart they love so much.

For Ravel, the Viennese master, who was not as much appreciated around 1900 as it is today, was a shining example. Ravel's works are like boxes full of precious objects: They are rather small in size, but the miniatures sparkle in them. The gifted orchestra player was able to immerse his listeners in a sound color bath in a confined space like no other. For example in “Rapsodie espagnol” and “Alborada del gracioso” (“Morning Song of the Fool”), two of his many musical homages to Spain, so beloved by the Basque: an orchestral outburst here, then again only two instruments, the section leaders of the first Violins with the harp.

Grow up instead of falling asleep with the "Pavane pour une infante défunte"

This music, which is not very familiar to the audience, is enormously fragmented, has a dazzling, constantly lurching character; before the beginning of the quiet middle part of the "fool" Barenboim has to block the beginning applause with a raised hand. The “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for an infanta who has fallen asleep”) is more like an eye-rubbing waking up than falling asleep. It begins with a horn solo motif that is immediately taken over by Albrecht Mayer's oboe before it blossoms throughout the orchestra.

And then the downside: the inevitable “Boléro” - Ravel's only global success, of which he himself said: “Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with music.” Emmanuel Pahud's flute softly intonates them over the barely visible small drums placed in the middle of the orchestra famous melody that repeats itself with merciless, algorithm-like logic: If bots were to compose now, it would probably sound exactly like that. The only thing that becomes bearable is Ravel's instrumentation, which increases into the fantastic. And how Barenboim and the Philharmonic are building up this crescendo dynamically, how a collective here, with silent consent, increases the volume so cleverly for 16 minutes - that's really great. If “Boléro”, then please: the mechanical inexorability dissolves into musical subjectivity, so ultimately into humanity. Udo Badelt

The concert will be repeated on December 31st at 5.15pm in the Berlin Philharmonie, will be broadcast live in the Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic and will also be available in the archive a few days later. In addition, the TV broadcaster arte will show the concert with a time delay from 6.40 p.m. RBB-Kulturradio also broadcasts live, the recording can be listened to for seven days on www.kulturradio.de.

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