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Elbphilharmonie Hamburg: Grand Opening Concert
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Pan from Six Metamorphoses After Ovid, Op. 49 (1951) [2:14]
Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Appels – Échos –Prismes from Mystère de l’instant (1989) [5:21]
Emilio de’ CAVALIERI (1550-1602)/Antonio ARCHILEI (1542-1612)
Dalle più alte sfere from La Pellegrina (1589) [6:01]
Bernd Alois ZIMMERMANN (1918-1970)
Photoptosis (Prelude for full orchestra) (1968) [11:49]
Jacob PRAETORIUS (1586-1651)
Quam pulchra es (Motette for 5 voices and Basso continuo) (1606) [4:37]
Rolf LIEBERMANN (1910-1999)
Furioso (1947) [7:43]
Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618)
Amarilli mia bella from Le nuove musiche (1601) [3:51]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Finale (tenth movement) from Turangalîla-Sinfonie (1948) [9:33]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Prelude to Parsifal (1877-1882) [11:17]
Wolfgang RIHM (b. 1952)
Reminiszenz (Triptychon und Spruch in memoriam Hans Henny Jahnn) (2016) [20:17]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Finale (fourth movement) from Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (1822-24) [24:27]
NDR Chor/Philipp Ahmann; Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Howard Arman
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester/Thomas Hengelbrock
Video Director: Henning Kasten
rec. live 11 January 2017, Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg
Bonus Documentary: “The Elbphilharmonie – Hamburg’s New Landmark,” a film by Thorsten Mack and Annette Schmaltz
C MAJOR Blu-ray 741504 [165 mins]

If you are fortunate enough to have attended the opening concert of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, this Blu-ray disc is the ideal memento of the occasion. For those who weren’t, and that includes this reviewer, the elaborate production in stunning video and audio is a very good substitute. I’m not sure how often I will view it myself, but I am confident I will be sharing it with friends.

I think it is best to start with the 53-minute documentary, which goes into great detail on the trials and tribulations, including litigation, of realizing the amazing structure that was completed over six years after its intended debut. Politicians, architects, builders, acoustician, and chief conductor, among others, are all given their say. While the audio is in German, one can choose subtitles in English as well as other languages. Once you have absorbed everything about the creation of the Elbphilharmonie, you can then sit back and enjoy the concert.

The concert itself is unusual, but effective, in its selections and the way one piece finishes and then goes directly to the next. As the concert opens, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester comes on stage when the house darkens and you hear a solo oboe being projected from one of the terraces. The camera then moves to the oboist, Kalev Kuljus, who performs the Pan movement from Britten’s Six Metamorphoses After Ovid. This segues to the orchestra performing the first three movements of Dutilleux’s Mystère de l’instant. During these pieces the cameras project some weird lighting effects, focusing on the while ceiling panels and also the building’s exterior. The visuals are really stunning via the Blu-ray technology, something that I doubt could be equaled on the DVD version which I have not seen.

Immediately after Dutilleux, the viewer is returned to the terraces with countertenor Philippe Jaroussky and harpist Margret Köll in an exquisite performance of Dalle più alte sfere from La Pellegrina, a work unfamiliar to me. Later in the concert they perform Caccini’s Amarilli mia bella from Le nuove musiche. We are taken back to the main stage for the first full-orchestra piece on the programme, Zimmermann’s Photoptosis, where the shimmering lighting in various colours on the building’s exterior really enhances the music. Photoptosis is a slow and dissonant work that quotes the beginning of the finale of Beethoven Ninth’s and Wagner’s Parsifal, but becomes rather noisy and too drawn out. It’s quite a jolt to go from there directly to the terraces again and observe a wonderful motet by Jacob Praetorius for five voices (two sopranos, two tenors, and bass-baritone, accompanied by theorbo, trombones, and strings) performed by the eponymous ensemble.

One of the most impressive works on the whole concert, in my opinion, is Rolf Liebermann’s Furioso for orchestra with piano, which was premiered at the famous modern music festival in Darmstadt in 1947. It is a jazzy and lively virtuoso piece that lives up to its name, but also has a quiet middle section with solo flute and English horn. The performance is all one could ask, but I felt the piano part could have projected better in places. I had a similar concern with the finale from Messiaen’s Turangalîla with both the piano and the Ondes Martenot, although the more discreet swooping of the latter was not a drawback! The performance of the Messiaen, overall, was very good but could have been more unbuttoned. Also the last chord did not sound quite together. The extensive employment of multi-coloured lighting on the Elbphilharmonie was most appropriate here considering Messiaen’s famous synesthesia. There was a brief intermission with audience applause after this piece.

The concert’s second half consisted of three pieces with a total timing nearly equaling that of the first half. Wagner’s Prelude to Parsifal receives a moving performance that seems broader than the timing indicates. This music is also used as background while the disc’s menu is displayed. It is followed by the world premiere of a work commissioned by the NDR, Wolfgang Rihm’s Reminiszenz for tenor solo and orchestra. Unfortunately, there is nothing about the piece in the accompanying booklet. While subtitles in English help somewhat, I am at a loss what to make of the work. It is obviously supremely well orchestrated with an expressive tenor solo taking the lead role. The work is solemn, yet with violent outbursts, and atonal. I have to say that the orchestra seems to be engaged as is Pavol Breslik, who is also the fine tenor soloist in the last selection, the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth. There the vocal quartet and the chorus outdo themselves and it is real pleasure to watch and hear them. The camera work is splendid both when focusing on the singers and in switching to exterior of the building. The orchestra, while not inferior, appears to take a back seat to the vocalists. Hengelbrock is better at capturing the lower end of the dynamic spectrum than the orchestral climaxes. A shot of adrenalin would have not gone amiss. One of the most memorable, and rather humourous, moments comes as the camera is focusing on the building when you hear a single grunt of the contrabassoon before the cameras shift to the orchestra for the “Turkish march.”

Overall, notwithstanding my few reservations, this concert can easily be declared a success. I wonder, though, why something of Hamburg’s favourite son, Johannes Brahms, was not included in this programme. It would certainly have been appropriate. There is a snatch of Brahms, from his Serenade No. 1, as the Blu-ray opens on views of the Elbphilharmonie before switching to the actual concert. At the beginning of the documentary, Patricia Kopatchinskaja briefly pays tribute to the new hall. I can only imagine that a performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto’s third movement with her as soloist would have brought the house down. As I indicated above, both the sound and video qualities of the Blu-ray could not have been improved upon. The thick booklet that comes with the disc has fairly lengthy discussions of the concert hall, the orchestra, and Hengelbrock, and numerous full-colour photos. More detail on the works and particularly something about the premiere composition would have been valuable. In every other way, this is indeed a classy product.

Leslie Wright
  
Other performers
Kalev Kuljus (oboe) (Britten); Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor) (Cavalieri/Archilei, Caccini); Margret Köll (harp) (Cavalieri/Archilei, Caccini); Iveta Apkalna (organ) (Zimmermann, Rihm); Ensemble Praetorius (Praetorius); Ya-ou Xie (piano) (Liebermann, Messiaen); Thomas Bloch (Ondes Martenot) (Messiaen); Pavol Breslik (tenor) (Rihm, Beethoven); Hanna-Elisabeth Müller (soprano) (Beethoven); Wiebke Lehmkuhl (alto) (Beethoven); Sir Bryn Terfel (bass) (Beethoven)

 

 




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