1 October 2012

Sunday matinee with croissants

I was surprised, too, that the Sunday matinee concert at the Berlin Concert Hall included coffee and croissants. It’s a lovely tradition and quite like the free wines before the Amsterdam Concertgebouw concert that we attended. There should be more of it in Australia. It’s casual, friendly, even if people come dressed up a little. In fact, I noticed that dress didn’t formalise occasions in Europe. Concertgebouw was ties and tails for the musicians and otherwise it’s been lounge suits and long black dresses, but the presentation is easy-going and quite informal. On the other hand the audience is dressed much like Australians: some suits, some dags. All part of life: I like that.

Yesterday’s concert was matinee fare, attended by lots of kids, casual but quality. The performance was the Mozart matinee. The place was the Konzerthaus Berlin. The performers were the Konzerthausorchester Berlin conducted by Michael Sanderling with Michael von Schönermark playing fagott (bassoon) in the Mozart Bassoon concerto. (I use the word fagott archaically). The music was Georg Benda’s Second symphony in G major, Mozart’s Bassoon concerto in Bb major KV191 and Haydn’s London symphony no.104 in D major. The playing was wonderfully comfortable on some very comfortable music. The dynamics were well stated, the orchestra swelling nicely together and the lines fell or moved with ease. The Benda was a lovely if early piece. I immediately took to the wonderfully clear sound of the hall. Nicely balanced and clear and transparent, with recognisable echo and reverb but not too much. We were sitting in the middle of the very back row of the dress circle and it was lovely. One note: these matinees are free seating and Germans like to queue for seats (luckily there were plenty of sets left after our croissants). By this time, I was enjoying the sound and the capable playing. The Benda used a smaller chamber orchestra: standing strings with two basses, two French horns and one each of flute and oboe. The Mozart substituted what seemed to be natural horns and added trumpet and the featured bassoon. It’s a lovely piece but is a strange throwback to my ears. The bassoon has an attractive and gentle sound and looks somewhat strange fronting an orchestra. It’s a modest instrument with reminiscent of mediaeval tone and volume. The orchestra frequently swelled then dropped back for this unassuming instrument. But it’s mellifluous and the piece is attractive: attractive more than emotive. I found the bassoon playing exercise-like as it moved scalar fragments up and down and played moving octaves and (was it) fifths. Mozart is always attractive but this also had a feeling of revisiting the past. The bassoonist played an encore as a duo with cello. Then conductor Michael entertained the audience with a chatty conversation with bassoonist Michael. There were a few laughs, but I didn’t understand the German so no report there. Then a larger orchestra (four basses, percussion and more) performed Haydn. To my surprise it started with a Beethoven’s fifth-like passage. But that’s where it ended. To my ears, he searched for thematic development but it didn’t come. I’m harsh, but the Beethoven reference ruined the Haydn for me. This was workmanlike, lightweight, struggling for expression or rather for the emotions to express. Where Beethoven is inevitably purposeful and expressive, Haydn was seeking, repeating, trying but not achieving. Apparently he was born before Mozart, wrote tons and outlived Beethoven. Perhaps this symphony even influenced Beethoven with his mightier works. Certainly Beethoven was a student of Haydn’s after his London visit, and may have heard this and his Haydn’s eleven other London symphonies. Perhaps Haydn heard Beethoven’s fifth, which was finished before Haydn died. Whatever, I found the work pleasant but unassuming. But the performance was wonderful, the easy relaxing presentation was lovely, and we came out of the hall in good cheer to a sunny day and the Berlin marathon happening in front of us. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday. BTW, the Berlin marathon was running just outside the Concerthouse as we left so the pic with runners.

The Konzerthausorchester Berlin (Orchestra of the Berlin Concert House) was conducted by Michael Sanderling. Michael von Schönermark played bassoon in the Mozart Bassoon concerto. The music was Georg Benda’s Second symphony in G major, Mozart’s Bassoon concerto in Bb major KV191 and Haydn’s London symphony no.104 in D major.

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