Berlin. Konzerthaus. 30-XII-2022. Rolf Hoyer (born 1950): Prologue for mezzo and orchestra, text by Kerstin Hensel. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Symphony No. 9. Johanna Wallroth, soprano; Karolina Gumos, mezzo; Jeremy Ovenden, tenor; Markus Marquardt, bass. Rundfunkchor Berlin; Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Vladimir Jurowski, Natalia Ponomarchuk, director
A creation and direction shared with Ukrainian chef Natalia Ponomarchuk: Jurovsky does not allow the holiday spirit to become routine.
The Ninth symphony Beethoven is as regularly part of New Year’s programs as light music in Germany – the Berlin Philharmonic chooses a more varied program this year in the less original form of a concert of operatic arias by Jonas Kaufmann and Kirill Petrenko, but the Staatsoper is an opportunity for music director Daniel Barenboim to return to the podium after a long difficult month creates. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester also follows tradition, but not without rethinking it. Not only does the concert begin with a creation designed as a prologue, but Vladimir Yurovsky chose to share the stage with his Ukrainian counterpart, the experienced artist Natalya Ponomarchuk, whose career would not have crossed the border of her country if not for the criminal invasion. The Russian language is not a value judgment.
The work is the work of Rolf Hoyer, a composer born in the GDR in 1950 who barely makes headlines in the music press in France or Germany these days. Along with a large orchestra with several extensions (double bass, multiple percussion) taking Beethoven’s instruments, this prologue features the voice of mezzo Karolina Gomos. It embodies poetess Kerstin Hensel’s skillful text, rich in mythological allusions. It originates from the same cultural repertoire as Schiller – the first line, Uns das Feuer der Götter? (The fire of the gods to us?) is reminiscent of Prometheus, but we must not forget that the fire of the Gods is also sometimes destructive. On this occasion, of course, we did not expect a new musical language, but the work is always interesting, colorful and well written: this prologue, the creation of which was postponed for two years due to Covid, deserves what follows.
After conducting this work, Jurovsky takes the microphone to explain the rest of the concerto, conducting only the first two movements before passing the symphonic baton to his colleague, underscoring the heavy tradition of the work. It is not easy to deduce from this monumentality that competing totalitarianism can appear a fortiori in this kind of concert over the occasion (New Year’s Eve). That’s fine, Jurowski’s direction is anything but monumental, far from the grand marble style of tradition. Without ever falling into pathos, it shows from the beginning of the first act that the fighting time is not over and that there is a fighting spirit.Eroica still lives. The pace is usually fast, but never rushed, as Jurowski follows organic necessity without seeking effects.
Natalia Ponomarchuk’s direction carries emotion only because of the setting, but talking about the music is the best way to honor it; it certainly raises doubts, especially the slightly too percussive dynamics that bring the end of the case too close to the fireman, but at least its direction is in the same direction as Jurowski’s for the previous acts. We particularly pity the more soloists, who struggle to get past the chorus and orchestra, and tend to push their voices unseemly: it would be better to put them in front of the orchestra. The distance to the choir, placed in the gallery above the backstage, is extreme.
Photo credit: © Peter Meisel
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