Friday, March 6, 2009

Fenice Orchestra | Henze

What was particularly wonderful about tonight's concert by the La Fenice Orchestra is that I had a chance to hear beautiful music I had never heard before.

The first part of the concert was devoted to two pieces by Hans Werner Henze. The first, "Das Vokaltuch der Kammersangerin Rosa Silbert" which I gather from the Italian translation means something like The Vocal Texture of Soprano Rosa Silber, is a suite drawn from the ballet of the same name, which was in turn based on a painting by Paul Klee of that title. In 1990 when Henze revised the score he subtitled it "Exercises with Stravisnky on a painting by Paul Klee."

The music was commissioned in 1950 by Ferenc Friscay, then director of the RIAS Berlin Orchestra. It was written in the dead center of the dread century. A divided Germany was still in smoking ruins. But listening to the music you would not know. It is a gorgeous conjuration of a lost world. Les vrais paradis sont les paradis perdus, Proust wrote. The true paradises are paradises lost.

This music glistens with some of the sheen of the glory years of the Ballets Russes. It is filled with Stravinsky and Prokofieff and Ravel, and moves quickly, a succession of dances, rhythmically and instrumentally distinct. The orchestra was inspired in a way they were not for Romeo et Juliette the other night. This probably has a lot to do with the conductor, Gerd Albrect, who has a clean, magisterial, and non-nostagic grasp of the musical language.

But I also think that this orchestra plays best when playing more challenging music. Their Wagner has been impressive, and their Korngold and Schoenberg and Nono. And I am sure it is somewhat the same for them as for me, the listener, appreciating the opportunity to hear music I have never heard before. They rose to the occasion. The music shimmered and spun and danced.

The second piece, Appassionatamente Plus, is a tone poem which opens with an explosion of percussion, everthing but the kitchen sink including drums, gongs, tam-tams wood blocks, o-daiko (Japanese barrel drums) and on and on. It was pretty impressive; certainly got your attention. The rest was alternately silky and dense, hyper-romantic, with attenuated crescendos and grand swirling climaxes, as if Verklarte Nacht had been orchestrated by Mahler.

With no pre-conceived notions, no expectations, no ready-made frame of reference derived from having heard the music a million times before, I was open and surprised and often astonished. It is much the same "wow" factor as when you are hiking up a hilly path somewhere you have never been, rise over a crest and suddenly see the majestic blue vastness of a sea that you didn't know was there. It stops you dead.

I found the first part of the concert dazzling in that way. The second part was the Brahms Second symphony. Here the music is intimately familiar. You can hear the instant the performers fall short of, or at least veer away from, the image in your mind drawn from previous performances and from a lifetime of recordings. It didn't sound as clean and well articulated as Chicago or Berlin, as warm and mellow as Vienna, it didn't have the spot-on pacing of Giulini or Reiner or Abbado or Bernstein or or or...

But it was the perfect Symphony for today, filled with sunshine and burnished warmth and infectious rhythms. It felt as much like spring as the mimosas outside.

SUGGESTION TO LA FENICE: How about some Henze opera, prego!

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