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Berlin orchestra brilliant

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Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly, conductor, Shlomo Mintz, soloist; Symphony Hall March 15.

Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly, conductor, Shlomo Mintz, soloist; Symphony Hall March 15; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Maurizio Pollini, conductor and soloist, Symphony Hall, March 16.

Last Friday Shlomo Mintz and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra took the town by storm..

The orchestra launched into Beethoven's Violin Concerto with a precision rarely heard in Boston. Moments of power were effortlessly reached; strings were super-smooth, while tingling with excitement. And when Mintz played, the accompaniment was subtle and supportive.

Mintz was utterly caught in the music, his tone sweet and shining, technique impeccable, feeling profound. The cadenza to the Allegro ma non troppo was stunning: Mintz, with supreme versatility, cast the themes of the movement into every conceivable light.

The Berlin Orchestra develops textures of great richness, a characteristic of many famous German orchestras. Perhaps this explains its ability to bring out the brute sensuousness of Strauss and Wagner in a way others find hard to emulate. If it is done messily, it can make the performance heavy-handed.

The Berliners showed such discipline, though, that the Larghetto to the Beethoven concerto had both a richness of substance and clarity of form. Mintz' very personal approach to the movement added a sense of deep personal involvement, both with orchestra and audience.

The concluding Rondo (allegro) had both a playful quality -- Mintz' violin dancing delightfully -- and an intensity that left the listener in a state of reflection as well as joyful elation.

Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 68, was done with like style: One was struck with the seemingly endless reserves of string power; and by the sensitivity of solo wind playing, virtuosic of itself, but firmly bound in with the orchestral whole. One could only admire the graceful sheen on the strings in the Andante sostenuto. Despite some slightly fast passages towards the beginning of the fourth movement, the warmth of sentiment coupled with completeness of control, gave the finale a grandeur to be remembered for many a concert season.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra, the next night, paled by comparison to the Berliners. The all-Mozart concert started with the Piano Concerto No. 12, Maurizio Pollini conducting and playing solo at the same time. We have here a work with some of the simplest of melodies to mock at the player incapable of reaching into their elusive depths.

The strings lacked a sharpness of definition which continually made them sound confused and their approach to Mozart tired and superficial. Pollini, in contrast, played with a wonderful lightness of touch. For a few moments of the Andante, his ethereal but probing pace inspired empathy from the strings, and we saw the complex face of Mozart illuminated. The light faded, though, and shallowness returned for the end of the movement, and a sluggish and muddled Allegretto.

The Orchestra reached the low-point of the evening in the Symphony No. 34. Playing was uneven and poorly timed. The Andante di molto was insipid, the Menuett; Trio charmless, the Allegro vivace mechanical.

Mozart must be more than a collection of notes, and spirit, if present, may transcend inadequacies of technique. But not only was orchestral playing sloppy; it was lacking in soul.

Happily, the orchestra was more relaxed for the final piece, the Piano Concerto No. 17. Pollini developed the tensions of the Allegro skillfully, and we heard the best orchestral balance of the evening; there was some lovely playing on winds and soloist and orchestra were effective in emotionally complemented each other.

The Andante got off to a slippery start, but Pollini drew his piano into introspection and strings settled down to provide reflective support for the soloist.

There was, at last, some sparkle to orchestral playing for the stylish opening of the Allegro-Presto; and Pollini's playing was as fluent as ever. But strings lost coordination again towards the end, making for a disappointing conclusion to what appeared to be an ill-rehearsed concert.

Jonathan Richmond->