Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
November 26, 2018
If anyone thought the surprise of the Staatskapelle Berlin’s incredible sound might have worn off by their second concert under the baton of maestro Daniel Barenboim, they were mistaken. The descending passages that open Brahms’s Third Symphony were delivered with a robust, full-throated power, Barenboim drawing from the Staatskapelle a “con brio” in atmosphere if not necessarily in tempo, the depth of the string blend once again thoroughly arresting.
Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin at the Sydney Opera House. Photo © Peter Adamik
The Third Symphony – which comes in a pair with the Fourth, the two completed a year apart (in 1883 and 1884) after an almost six year gap following the Second – is perhaps the composer’s most enigmatic. From the rousing opening, Barenboim highlighted the more delicate, ambiguous textures in this symphony – there were some beautiful flute and clarinet moments in the first movement, passionate strings (led by Concertmaster Jiyoon Lee in this concert), and Hanno Westphal’s expansive horn lines were a highlight throughout. The Staatskapelle’s brass were also on show, producing a complex dark-edged sound just short of gritty. Barenboim directed all of this – as he had in the first concert – with an eye to dynamic detail and an unwavering command of the larger architecture, swaying on the podium as the melodies rocked from one side of the split violins to the other.
The Andante had a chorale-like sweetness, the suspended threads of high strings magical, before Barenboim moved seamlessly into the Poco allegretto, with its lyrical winds and haunting horn melody, the strings reaching and dying away. The strings were in full flight in the finale, the cellos penetrating and the violins buzzing against descending wind, brass fiery once more and pizzicato basses propelling the music before whispers of the first movement’s theme lingered across the symphony’s quiet ending.
The Fourth Symphony after interval seemed to emerge again from that silence, Barenboim drawing out the quiet entry almost to breaking point in the slow-dance of the opening before the movement’s swirling figures played across winds and strings. Here, as in the First Symphony the night before, Barenboim was not afraid to linger on the quieter moments before surging, elastically, into the drama and fury of Brahms’s final symphony. The horn solo and accumulating winds were resplendent in the second movement, Barenboim’s Andante moderato taken at a thoughtful tempo, building to uplifting heights as the movement progressed, before the bright outburst of the Allegro giocoso, the strings boisterous (the basses particularly resonant) and piccolo and triangle giving the movement a celebratory air. Barenboim launched attacca into the variations of the final movement, an exquisite display of colour from intertwining winds to grimly beautiful violins. Claudia Stein’s flute solo in the final movement was absolutely luminous, her sound dark velvet as she crept down into the low register, Barenboim ceding her the floor.
This second concert gave us a different Brahms, and therefore a different Staatskapelle, more colour and complexity but throughout the same organic relationship between conductor and orchestra. The slightest of blemishes – the occasional ragged entries of wind or brass – showed the Staatskapelle human, but no less compelling for that. The brass sound was richly textured, drilling through the orchestra before the final feverish bars of muscular strings and the thunderous orchestral tutti that capped off a stunning survey of Brahms’s Symphonies. Barenboim’s address to the audience, delivered with both humour and passion, highlighted the humanity at the heart of his music-making, reflected on a more personal level in his lingering on stage to chat with his musicians between and during the bows. The final concert, of Schubert and Beethoven, promises to be a different creature again – but no less captivating.
Daniel Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin at the Sydney Opera House, November 27