Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Berlin Phil Europakonzert attracts Adabei 1 percent

A space best left to equine performers
Spanish Riding School, 01/05/2012

Berliner Philharmoniker, Gustavo Dudamel, Gautier Capuçon

Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, op. 56a
Haydn: Cello Concerto no. 1 in C major, Hob. VIIb/1
Beethoven: Symphony no. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

This Europakonzert involved turning Heldenplatz and Michaelerplatz into open-air showrooms for top of the range VWs, and the shambolic sight of these vehicles showing off their supposed ease of parallel parking amid a procession (for our interval amusement) of Fiakers led by Lippizaner rejects suggested that the parties hoping to make promotional hay out of this event had got their wires somewhat crossed. Vienna’s shameless Tourist Office probably got the most of it, as they so often do: the programme booklet was fully on message with all the usual crap about tradition, in contrast to a hapless member of the VW board who pushed the analogy between the Technik of his engines, the Berlin Phil, and the Lippizaner so floridly that we all enjoyed a good giggle at his expense. In the audience the corporate suits from VW and Porsche stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb with their Karl-Heinz Grasser hairstyles and egos, but if the shoulder pads and botulized faces elsewhere made this look like your typical Musikverein crowd, it wasn’t really. Just moneyed Adabeis with no musical taste.

The concert itself was something best appreciated on TV rather than live. Gone was the legendary immediacy of the Berlin Phil’s sound, and everything below the treble stave sounded like a broken VW engine. Very short, fast bows from the firsts, unthinkable in the Musikverein, compensated somewhat for the hall’s shortcomings, but cellos and basses were less successful, even when giving the third movement of the Beethoven their best attack. Hopeless really, in this Augean stable of an acoustic, but they tried.

Dudamel led a restrained and graceful St. Anthony Variations and was a sympathetic accompanist in Haydn’s C major cello concerto; probably some of the classiest conducting I’ve seen from him, on reflection. Signs of an intelligent musical ear were more apparent than in his concerts with the Vienna Phil a few months ago: the pealing woodwind runs at the end of the Brahms were quite delightful, and while there might have been slightly more spring in the Haydn’s step, some of the detail, again in the winds, was fairly sharp. We will be seeing a lot of Gautier Capuçon in Vienna over the twelve months and I should rather reserve judgement until I hear him perform in some place that isn’t a barn, but from what he did manage to project I heard some very good things indeed. Like the Phil’s firsts his articulation was on the curt side at times, but with no loss of style. I’ve said this before to a cellist friend who thinks I’m barking up the wrong tree, but will say here again anyway: his tone strikes me as quite like du Pré, or at least du Pré when she was using the Davidov Strad and playing this concerto, even if it breathes a little less and acquires intensity in a totally different way. Of course Capuçon, or few other living cellists for that matter, is not as self-indulgent… but it is more of a timbral thing than anything else.

The Haydn and Brahms had shown off Dudamel’s rarely seen Kapellmeister side and he remained in this mode for much of the Beethoven. The pacing here was good and playing well attended to, some Vienna Phil-style flubs in the winds and brass excepted, and Dudamel not allowing accelerandos to start too early paid off at the very end when the winds got the chance to articulate some semiquaver detail which typically gets lost. The moment of ambiguity in the third movement bridge passage was nicely done too. As for the rest, well, I must confess to asking what exactly makes him so special if this is all there is to his conducting when he isn’t grandstanding.

Don Carlos I missed tonight unfortunately – too much work stuff to deal with this week, and then I also read this less enthusiastic report from Bloggerin Rossignol, which I elect to trust more than the Viennese papers. It returns next year in any case.


  1. I hope you continue to enjoy Capuçon's performances. I can certainly hear the timbral link between him and du Pré, though his intonation is much more accurate. Even when du Pré was physically OK, as in the Barbirolli Elgar, there is a wideness to her tuning - I know she was only 20 or something - which I now can't stomach. That said, Capuçon doesn't always muster her strength in larger works and, when I've heard him here in London playing the Dvořák and the Brahms Double, he has struggled to ride the orchestra.

  2. There are a certainly a few reasons not to like du Pré's Elgar concerto. Out of the recordings I find palatable Starker and Schiff are the most interesting, and with Schiff's latest recording I sense we may be turning a corner, though I suppose the same could have been said of Starker and look what happened...

    As for Capuçon and du Pré, I was thinking more of her Haydn/ECO recordings, where the notes are more centred and the vibrato faster. But it is just timbre really; their styles are totally different. The one time I've seen Capuçon live previously was with Schubert chamber works, and the similarity showed itself there too, to my ear. Capuçon not carrying as well in much heavier concerto rep I can well imagine.