Much of the pleasure of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert with David Zinman last week lay in the programming. Three of Stravinsky’s Hollywood scores and Tchaikovsky’s second symphony framed the world premiere of Marc- André Dalbavie’s flute concerto.
Under Zinman’s glass-clear direction, sober Stravinsky and bitterly ironic Tchaikovsky threw light on one another, two dissatisfied men making more of Russian folk songs. Dalbavie’s single-movement concerto rested in between like the calm at the eye of the storm, radiating contentment.
The piece, which was co- commissioned by the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, is dedicated to its soloist Emanuel Pahud. The writing is clearly tailored to his rich, round tone and fleet agility. Dalbavie is an unapologetic sensualist. His music is all about gorgeous sounds and haunting atmosphere. There is little to indicate that we are in the 21st century. Innovative playing techniques are largely eschewed, and scales and arpeggios feature extensively. The ghosts of Debussy and Britten can be felt. This is a dreamy midsummer creation, pregnant with anticipation yet languid and flimsy. Dalbavie is a master of colour and space, a champion of aural pleasure, even more so with these performance forces. The piece ends with a sudden gust, and its memory blows away like a feather in the breeze. This is meringue music, light and sweet, between the more substantial Russian works.
Zinman brings taut discipline to Stravinsky’s neoclassical scores. The “Four Norwegian Moods”, “Ode”, and “Scherzo à la Russe” are all Hollywood works, failed film projects from the late war years. They profit from both Zinman’s dry, transparent approach and the high- carbohydrate solo wind playing of the Berlin Philharmonic. No other orchestra can quite match the lush homogeneity of this wind section. Add utterly pure intonation and an unhurried, unaffected approach and you get thoroughly refined music-making.
Tchaikovsky’s second, “Little Russian” symphony can easily lapse into kitsch. Under Zinman’s restrained direction, it never does. You hear the bleakness behind the lyricism, the dry rattle of bones beneath the sparkle. Zinman emphasises the macabre, and brings out the work’s dark wit. But he also knows when to let rip and unleash the full fury of the orchestra into the distant corners of the hall. Satisfying stuff. ★★★★☆
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