Saturday, March 24, 2012
Christoph Von Dohnanyi donducts Schubert (almost like Beethoven), and Henze (almost like Schoenberg and Berg).
Tonight, the New York Philharmonic, under Christoph von Dohnanyi, performed a concert of music of Hans Werner Henze and Franz Schubert, a fitting combination.
The program was preceded by a talk about Henze by Fred Plotkin. Henze, born in Germany in 1926m came of age right after WWII, and lived a discrete gay life, touring to appropriate spots in the Mediterranean and circulating with other gay figures in 20th Century Music. But he always saw his personal life as private, separate from his somewhat left-wing politics. The lecture didn’t mention a particularly morally controversial opera, “The Raft of the Medusa”, about who has the best right to survive at sea.
The concert opened with the Concert Suite: "Adagio, Fugue and Maenad’s Dance from The Bassarids", with came across as episodic, and a compositional style that resembled Alan Berg to my ear. There are moments of a kind of morbid, post-Wagnerian beauty. The last section is very slow and quiet, with occasional dissonant outbursts, and conveys a mood of the end of the world, rather appropriate for a film by Lars von Trier. "The Bassarids" uses a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, and is a one-act opera composed in the format of a four movement symphony; seems tells the ironic story of King Pentheus of Thebes, whose ascetism as punished by temptation revealing his hyprocisy, leading to his own catastrophic termination. No wonder the music ends in such descent into nothingness. Melancholia indeed.
The main work was the Schubert Symphony in C, D 944, “The Great”. Now I personally call this work the Ninth, because I think the E Major reasonably counts as the 7th. This work, for me, is where Bruckner begins. Dohnanyi takes the first movement introduction too fast, and takes the exposition repeat in the first movement, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard done. (He does not in the finale, below.) The concept is Toscanini-like, which doesn’t give the unresolved dissonances in the development settle in as much as they should. He keeps a brisk tempo right through the triumph of the coda, which is like another development. He so far conducts this as if it were Beethoven.
The A minor Andante con moto here sounded like an Allegretto (the Beethoven 7th). But for the Scherzo he slowed down a bit, and he takes the magnificent “perpetual motion” finale at a stately pace. The program notes point out that the development starts out by rephrasing the second subject (of sort) as to show the relation to the chorale theme in the finale of the Beethoven 9th. But here Dohnanyi finally builds up a lot of tension, so that when we get to the repeating octaves and crashing dissonances in the coda, we have an effect that even Bruckner and Mahler never reproduced (although Shostakovich and Prokofiev did). Dohnany does not let the volume decrease on the final octave, instead reinforcing the fortissimo with a drum snap.
How do we evaluate the influence that this remarkable symphony would have on developing post-romantic Viennese school music decades later? The symphony was relative little played until toward the end of the Nineteenth Century, and it is considered (particularly the Finale) technically the most difficult of all symphonies up to its time (more difficult than any of Beethoven’s), for a long time regarded as unplayable. It demands physical fitness and endurance from its performers like few of today’s concert staples.
Here's a related talk about Henze's opera "Phaedra" (not in this concert), remarks by John Mark Ainsley: