Also sprach Zarathustra, Op.30
Piano Concerto No.1 in E-flat
Rienzi – Overture
Evgeny Kissin (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 19 January, 2019
Venue: Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin
By turning concert convention on its head – starting with something symphonic and ending with an Overture – Mariss Jansons and the Berliner Philharmoniker signalled an opening Sunrise (as heisted by Kubrick for 2001) to launch Richard Strauss’s Nietzsche-inspired Also sprach Zarathustra. It was a glorious moment – with rumbling depths, superlatively seamless and gleaming trumpets, Thor-like timpani strokes, the last one of each sequence really packing a punch, and an in-tune organ (not always the case) and there followed many more glorious moments, welded into a cohesive whole (deep breath, dear reader, I am doing this in one) – aided by tempos for the various sections being related, articulacy and clarity heading Jansons’s agenda – and so it was sublimely expressive solo strings, growing in numbers to glowing, double basses and cellos dispensing ‘Of Science’ with profound thought, the scoring then lifting to the airiest textures, highest frequencies leading to a climactic return of the opening motif – following which a longer than usual pause, tension maintained, was the dramatic pivot of this account – setting up a stylish ‘Dance-Song’ (lovely violin solo from Noah Bendix-Balgley, swaying oboes in tandem) before all is gathered in at Midnight, the Bell (here of the church variety) cutting through the consummation with ease (again, not always guaranteed), and if the work ends in uncertainty, this was a compelling thirty-six-minute performance, more time-taken than the average, conducted with relish (with and without baton) and played with particular focus and devotion.
Richard Wagner married Franz Liszt’s daughter Cosima, so this composerly pairing was apt. Evgeny Kissin gave breadth to Liszt’s E-flat Piano Concerto, as concise as it is ingenious in its thematically transformative design, the pianist’s technique serving his musical ambitions, from the fullest sonority (reminding of Arrau) to light filigree, and a flexible approach to tempo garnering some sensitive contributions from Philharmoniker principals, Jansons conspiring weighty and theatrical tuttis as well as tender responses; the slow second section was especially magical, the third flew by (like ‘Feux follets’ with added triangle), and the final one was combustively built, from impish dexterity to a powerhouse conclusion. For an encore Kissin played (I think) something of his own – jazzy, angular, rhythmic; it would pass for Prokofiev. As for the Overture to Rienzi (a big beast of an opera), it was soulfully prayerful, lyrically bewitching (every expressive morsel savoured) and the martial pomp aspects were dignified, something saved for an exciting acceleration to the finishing post.