Who Is Afraid – Volume 5

0 of 5 stars

Please see review for repertoire details

Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Ingo Metzmacher

Recorded on 31 December 2003 in the Musikhalle, Hamburg

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: May 2004
Duration: 80 minutes

While New Year’s Day concerts in Vienna seem to go on forever, New Year’s Eve concerts in Hamburg have been the norm for a mere five years, as Volume 5 of this welcome series confirms. But then, these concerts are no more in danger of becoming an institution than the music contained herein.

This latest concert opens with the overture to Gershwin’s Girl Crazy (1930), an effervescent potpourri from perhaps the most durable of the ‘George and Ira’ musicals (perhaps Metzmacher could revive the fortunes of one of the more overtly satirical shows, such as Let ‘Em Eat Cake). American music of more contemporary cut is provided by John Adams – his Lollapalooza (1995) a post-Minimalist farrago of ostinato rhythm and hard-edged orchestral interplay, pungently realised here. Germany’s counterpart to Louis Andriessen, in his preoccupation with the cultural significance of composing, Heiner Goebbels takes an ominous line on military music in Notiz einer Fanfare (2003) – one of a sequence of “Short Entries” for orchestra entitled From a Diary, recently premiered by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.

An astute move to counter music so redolent of the zeitgeist with the timelessness of Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question (1906), its transcendence clearly appreciated by a silent Musikhalle audience. A composer remembered for his finesse and all-round restraint, Frank Martin lets his hair down a little in Fox Trot (1927), evincing Kurt Weill in manner if not intent. That 1920s’ feel is subtly evoked by John Harbison’s Remembering Gatsby (1985), the overture to his opera after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, and a diverting trailer to a work yet to be heard outside the US. Berthold Goldschmidt was several years away from writing his first opera when he composed the overture The Comedy of Errors (1925). Steeped in the neo-classicism of the era, it develops its twin themes with wit and resource.

Aficionados of “Who Is Afraid” will have encountered the diverse music of Anton Plate on two previous occasions. At the River (2003), written for this concert, illumines yet another side to his composing – taking in references to an Ives song and the B-A-C-H motif in its journey from action to contemplation. Psychological ambiguity of a more immediate kind is depicted in Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes (1945): specifically, the Storm which forms the last of the Four Sea Interludes, given here with no mean insight – Metzmacher relishing those trombone glissandos like few others! More judicious programming now with Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten (1977), an ethereal encapsulation of the ‘tintinnabulation’ idiom that brought him to attention in the West a quarter century ago.

Music diametrically opposed in its demeanour follows with ‘Tammany Hall’, one of the Manhattan Broadcasts (1984) in which H. K. Gruber evokes an urban time and place in teasingly inscrutable terms. Nothing remotely obscure about “The Evil God and the Dance of the Heathen Spirit”, second movement from Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite (1914) – its hard-hitting strains bring the advertised concert to a close.

As always, there’s a fair helping of encores. Khachaturian’s incidental music to Masquerade (1944) is revisited, yielding a Mazurka in the tradition of such dances from Glinka to Prokofiev. The latter is again in evidence in the Schottische from Samuel Barber’s Souvenirs (1952), one of his most ingratiating scores. The same could be said also of Shostakovich’s operetta Moscow-Cheremushki (1958), whose subject matter – the perennial housing problem – has travelled surprisingly well in recent productions in the West. The Polka and Galop are typical of a composer who often stated his enjoyment of all music “from Bach to Offenbach” – a catholicity of taste emulated by Ingo Metzmacher in the latest addition to this enjoyable and enterprising series.

But will “Who Is Afraid” outlast his final season in Hamburg? Will the idea go with him to Amsterdam, to Netherlands Opera? At present, such questions remain as open as the repertoire selection for the concerts themselves.

The link below takes you to an article that our editor did with Ingo Metzmacher. Other links to this site’s Metzmacher coverage will be found there, not least to Amazon in order to acquire this CD!

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