In its fiftieth-anniversary year, this was the second appearance during 2019 of the Bundesjugendorchester (German National Youth Orchestra) at the Berlin Philharmonie, and once again – in contemporaneous and technically demanding works – the playing was of a very high order.
Edgard Varèse moved from Paris to New York in 1915, and after labouring on Amériques for three years he eventually completed it in 1922. Music of considerable rhythmic complexity, in its original form, it requires close on 140 musicians. The influence of Stravinsky is immediately apparent in the opening phrase on alto flute (The Rite of Spring never seems far away). There are hints of Debussy in the score’s rich tapestry, but Amériques also captures something of the hubbub of urban life, the incorporation of a siren and a steamboat whistle being the most obvious example. Ingo Metzmacher conducted Amériques with masterly control, ensuring these young musicians delivered a cohesive and compelling reading.
An Alpine Symphony (completed in 1915) clocked in, exceptionally, at exactly forty-five minutes, from which you may deduce that Metzmacher did not deliver the super-opulent treatment that many, indeed most, conductors believe Richard Strauss’s work demands; his was a forward-moving journey. I have known performances of this extravagant score that felt almost interminable, and the symphonic flow of Metzmacher’s account was very successful on its own terms, with some sections possessing a beauty that truly caught this listener’s heartstrings.