Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Planet Hugill in Hamburg: Philharmonic Chamber Concert

Hamburg Philharmonic Chamber Concert in the Kleiner Saal of the Laieszhalle
On Sunday morning, 29 September, we attended the first chamber concert of the Hamburg Philharmonic's season. The concert took place in the Kleiner Saal (small hall) of the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg at 11.00am. A programme of Britten, Richard Strauss and Johannes Brahms was played by Hibiki Oshima and Mette Tjaerby Korneliusen (violins), Thomas Ruhl (viola), Birgitta Maass (cello) and Eberhard Hasenfratz (piano), with the string players all being member of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra. The Philharmonic is over 180 years old and since the 1940's has provided the orchestra for the Staatsoper Hamburg as well.

The Laeiszhalle was built in the early 20th century, in neo-baroque style, and remarkably survived the devastations of World War Two. But the small hall was redeveloped in the 1950's and is now a modernist interior full of wood which gives a very warm sound. The hall is not raked and sight-lines to the stage are not ideal.

The programme was a substantial one with three chamber works spanning less than a century from the high point of Brahms's youthful chamber music in his Piano Quintet Op.34 of 1861-64, through Richard Strauss's early Piano Quartet op 13 (of 1883/4) to Benjamin Britten's First Quartet op 25 of 1941. All three are the works of young composers, with Britten and Brahms being no more than 30 and Strauss just 20

Britten's First Quartet was written at the behest of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge in 1941, whilst he was in America. The work is in the traditional four movements. The slow introduction to the opening movement brought echoes of the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, though technically the high writing for the upper strings pushed the players to the limits. They made quite an intense sound, tightly focussed, with a soft-grained pizzicato in the cello. The performance seemed technically adept but rather too good tempered, I would have liked the movement to have been more disturbing. There was a fine interaction between the players, and quite a well modulated sound.

The second movement, marked Allegro, con slancio was very intent, with a good strong edge to the short motifs which punctuated the fascinating textures. The slow movement, Andante calmo started with rather an eerie introduction developing into something more expressive and using what appeared to be echoes of a ground bass. The ensemble brought a lovely dancing feel to the final movement, Molto Vivace, but it was still quite intent and not playful. Again I found the performance a little to equable and wanted the work to be more disturbing. The players showed a great sense of interaction and it was very well balanced, but more elan might have been welcome.

Richard Strauss was only 20 when he wrote his Piano Quartet, it is a substantial four movement work lasting nearly 40 minutes and the young composer had clearly been listening to lots of Mendelssohn and Brahms. He displayed his melodic talent in spectacular fashion in the middle two movements, but this is combined with a feeling that he had not yet learned to edit his thoughts, and each movement seemed too expansive and in danger of outstaying its welcome.

After a slow introduction the opening Allegro plunges the listener into a full romantic atmosphere. Strauss uses the strings in unison a lot of the time to balance the power of the piano and there was very much a feeling of dialogue between the two groupings. The movement seemed rather more Mendelssohn than Brahms. The first subject was a great sweeping melody, with a more strenuous development section. This was a very well-made sonata form movement, just rather over extended and not especially showing many flashes of the composer's later brilliance.

The second movement was a fascinating light fingered scherzo and Mendelssohn's fairies were not far away. The trio was more relaxed. All in all the movement showed Strauss at his melodic best. The third movement, Andante, brought more melodic felicity and a more Brahmsian feel particularly in the way the viola participated quite strongly in the movement. The finale was marked Vivace but the players rather took it at quite a sedate feeling pace. Quite Brahmsian in feel with great sweeping melodies, I did rather want more fire in the performance. There was some great dialogue between the piano and the strings, with some gentler romantic episodes bring forth solos for violin and for cello.

The final work in the programme was Brahms's Piano Quintet Op 34. After a gentle introduction we were swept along into the big tune of the first subject. The players made a far more red blooded sound hear, giving lovely shape to Brahms's melodies. But it was still quite a fine grained, contained sound, perhaps on the cool side for Brahms. In the quiet moments the playing sometimes felt a little to equable and not intense enough. This was in contrast to the fine sturm und drang of the bigger moments. The performance seemed to bring out the symphonic feel of the movement.

At the opening of the Andante, with the bit tune in the piano just accompanied by the strings, I wanted a little more piano in the mix. There was a lovely interaction between the players, and a gorgeous shape to the melodies but I did want some greater edge at times. There was an artlessness about the playing which highlighted the folk-influences on Brahms.

There was a good intense mysterious feel to the opening of the Scherzo and then an explosion. Here, for almost the first time, we had some really meaty playing which brought out the real romantic extremes of Brahms music. The tension relaxed in the trio only to return, with a fabulously tempestuous ending. The slow introduction of the finale had one or two tuning issues, but the result was undoubtedly eerie. The main subject of the rondo had a very strong volkslieder lilt, as had the first episode. There were some lovely sprung rhythms and after the tension eased in the second episode, were were treated to a really terrific red-blooded passionate conclusion.


Elsewhere on this blog:

No comments:

Post a comment

Popular Posts this month