Bavarian Philharmonic KlangVerwaltung

Piano Concerto No.21 in C, K467
Symphony No.4 in E flat (Romantic)

Freddy Kempf (piano)

Bavarian Philharmonic KlangVerwaltung
Enoch zu Guttenberg

Reviewed by: Ken Ward

Reviewed: 24 January, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

“KlangVerwaltung”? Enoch zu Guttenberg explains that the “horrible name” is chosen ironically to undermine the idea of German orchestras as part of the Civil Service offering a career for life; to express their aspiration to be servants of the music, not stars standing before the music; and in accord with the Biblical parable of the three talents (as it is written in German translation), to be good administrators of their talent.

So this is an orchestra with a mission. Indeed, it was founded in 1997 by two violinists, Andreas Reiner and Josef Kröner, with the seemingly altruistic aim of “realising the unique musical ideas of the conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg”, and throughout this concert one had the sense that there was an agenda, certainly not hidden, but requiring some work on the part of the listener if one wished to get the most out of this unusual music-making. This was not a ‘sit back and just let the music flow over you’ event.

Freddy Kempf certainly wasn’t going to let anyone sit back. He launched into the solo part of the Mozart C major concerto with reckless verve, and a degree of spontaneity that made his performance give the illusion of improvisation. So it was all the more remarkable that the dialogue between the orchestra and pianist was maintained with impressive precision. Kempf’s vigour seem to inspire Guttenberg, who was up and down on his toes, and the orchestra responded, rising from a slightly prosaic opening statement to some increasingly lively playing.

The Andante seemed a little less interesting: Kempf affected a simplicity of approach, but this left the orchestra sounding mannered by comparison. I also found the Rondo somewhat lacking in variety and colour, not quite living up to the promise of the opening Allegro. Kempf’s performance was by no means note-perfect, but this was of little consequence when his playing was at its most spontaneous.

What I haven’t mentioned so far is that the Bavarian KlangVerwaltung generally plays without vibrato – even in Bruckner! Guttenberg believes that an orchestra that always uses vibrato restricts the colours on its palette, and detailed concern with tone colour was one of the things that marked this interesting performance out. Orchestral balance had been carefully observed so that, for once, the brass didn’t dominate the outer movements. Indeed, the great tuttis were often somewhat restrained, rounded off with a slight closing diminuendo so that they did not present too stark a drama. Occasionally the management of sound was taken to extremes: many pianissimos were quiet almost to the point of inaudibility, and the general background noise of Cadogan Hall’s air-conditioning) totally obliterated the opening tremolo thereby robbing the horn call of some of its romance.

The Andante was particular affected by the lack of vibrato, the cello theme gaining an angular, slightly torture feel, rather than the mellow, melancholy processional we’re used to hearing. There were many interesting decisions about how to administer the movement, including an unmarked crescendodiminuendo for the timpani towards the end which seemed to provide a more effective close than is sometimes the case.

But what was obvious was that Guttenberg loved to dance. In the Mozart he had been bouncy, and in Bruckner his repertoire of gestures and body language expanded vastly and became disturbingly dramatic – at times even comic. And every opportunity for dance-like first-beat-of-the-bar accentuation was leapt upon – the Ländler rhythm of the Trio pointed by oboes and trumpets brought out well beyond their pianissimo marking. The finale began surprisingly slow and almost static, but there was more dancing soon to come, and it gained a rather Haydnesque feel as it progressed, the strings dancing their accompaniment throughout the coda.

There were many such interesting, not often heard, details brought into close-up; but ultimately I found it too difficult to hear this performance as a totality. It was as if many things had been thought out very carefully, as you would expect from an efficient administration, but the over-arching policy, the sense of purpose and structure were not easily discovered. The performance provided a lot for the brain to think about but not so much for the heart to feel.

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