Berliner Philharmoniker/Simon Rattle at Carnegie Hall (4) – Schumann’s Symphonies 3 (Rhenish) & 4 and Georg Friedrich Haas’s dark dreams

Symphony No.4 in D minor, Op.120 [original 1841 version]
George Friedrich Haas
dark dreams [Carnegie Hall & Berliner Philharmoniker co-commission: US premiere]
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.97 (Rhenish)

Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 6 October, 2014
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Sir Simon Rattle rehearses the Berliner Philharmoniker in Carnegie Hall. Photograph: Rob DavidsonThis was the final concert of four by Berliner Philharmoniker and Simon Rattle at Carnegie Hall and which included a Schumann Symphony Cycle.

The high expectations of the sold-out audience were met by the superb playing of the orchestra and the finely controlled conducting of Rattle. Schumann’s D minor Symphony (which though numbered Four is his second) opened the program. Rattle led a stirring account, luminous from first to last note of the original ‘Leipzig’ version of the score (it was revised ten years later), much admired by Brahms for its transparent sound, and preferred by Rattle for its “lightness, grace, and beauty.” He allowed Schumann’s music to speak for itself, with the outer movements moving forward at a firm and steady pace, and the second-movement ‘Romanza’ full of grace and ardor, a reading marked by gorgeous playing and captivating detail, most notably in the transition to the exhilarating finale.

Equally compelling was the ‘Rhenish’ Symphony, intended as a kind of paean to the Rhineland, specifically a glorious glimpse of Cologne Cathedral resplendent in sunlight and made most affecting here with powerful brass. Under Rattle’s baton, the musicians gave a vibrant, technically perfect performance, full of light and shade, beautifully conveying the score’s spirited nobility.

As the concert’s centerpiece, Rattle conducted the US premiere of dark dreams, a captivating 23-minute tone poem and the first orchestral work written by the Austrian-born George Friedrich Haas since he moved to New York City, where he was appointed professor at Columbia University in September 2013.

Beyond the nightmarish mood suggested by the title, dark dreams has no specific program. Haas hopes that “one surrenders oneself to the pull of the sounds and emotions that the music communicates directly with the listener without having to explain too much”. In this eloquent performance, the surrender to Haas’s soundworld was easy. Permeated by the strings, the music begins with suspenseful tremolos and conveys a prevailing mood of uncertainty as it unfolds layer by layer. The music is full of unnerving effects – swift rises and falls in volume, abrupt outbursts of sound and color, and obsessively repeated patterns, It maintains a relatively steady pace until near the end, when a surprisingly joyful melody comes through on the contrabassoon and evolves into a full-blown lyrical outbreak among the horns and other instruments and then just as suddenly dissolves into stillness.

The audience gave the piece a warm and enthusiastic ovation. When the composer appeared, a few loud boos came from the upper reaches of the Balcony, but they were mostly drowned out by the bravos.

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