Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

From a serious musical point of view, New Year’s Eve concerts have always been questionable – disposable music for distracted drinkers. The Berlin Philharmonic has a little more prestige in the business. A carefully chosen program, an outstanding ensemble and a principal conductor with a powerful personality can provide much-needed material for the event.

Kirill Petrenko has put together a program with lots of bites to usher in a year that we would generally prefer to forget. Then back pain forced him to cancel, and Lahav Shani stepped into the breach.

It was a performance that no clear-minded maestro would want. Even with a few program changes, how can a youngster take on such a delicate balance of frippiness and depth and give it the necessary singing? With little rehearsal time, the risk was that it was about the chief conductor’s absence.

You hear the absolute confidence the orchestra now has in Petrenko in the split seconds of uncertainty you get with a replacement. Or do we tear our hair? The soloist Janine Jansen certainly had no trouble taking matters into her own hands. Her version of Bruch’s violin concerto was extremely emphatic and never left the slightest doubt as to what she wanted the orchestra to do. Hers was a ruthlessly unsentimental Bruch, and it was the best for it.

With the 1919 version of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Shani had his own party piece after the break, and took it all out. You will hear Simon Rattle’s legacy in the way this orchestra plays this piece for years to come, but Shani has worked hard to put his own stamp on it.

A woman in a ball gown plays the violin on stage

Janine Jansen was relentlessly unsentimental in Bruch’s Violin Concerto © Stephan Rabold

That of Ravel The waltz brought the concert to a crushing, bittersweet end. The festive banality of the opening Bat overture long forgotten, the orchestra heeded Shani’s sensational colors and abrupt contrasts, and the audience greeted his approval.

After all the sudden beats and shutdowns, the changing regulations and shifting of land, it’s good to see Berlin’s monster orchestra in full flight. Last year’s New Year’s Eve concert was only presented online; this year, with masks, proof of vaccination and fresh tests, the audience could be together, in the hall, as it happened. The collective living moment is characteristic of the musical experience; no broadcast can replace its visceral excitement. May Omicron not take it away from us again.

★★★ ☆☆

A woman in a white negligee walks a stage and looks anxious

Annette Dasch gives her everything as Janacek’s Katja Kabanova © Jaro Suffner

Perhaps even stranger than the tradition of festive New Year’s Eve concerts is the custom among German opera houses to keep their standard repertoire rolling over the festive season. While the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra rolled out waltzes and candies, the Comic Opera, a few hundred meters down the road, presented Janacek’s. Katja Kabanova on Christmas Day.

How about a little dysfunctional family drama and social cruelty to round off your Christmas time? Jetske Mijnssen’s grim little production places the action within the claustrophobic walls of a 1950s house, keeps the chorus off the stage and lets the social pressure play through implication. With Annette Dasch giving her substantial all in the title role, the whole dark is effective.

On stage, Giedre Slekyte keeps things together well. The cast is universally strong and wholeheartedly inhabits Mijnssen’s picky world of oppressed characters in a troublesome environment. The holiday season was not without losses; so many orchestra players were ill that the woodwinds had to juggle multiple parts, and Karin Lovelius stepped in wonderfully competently as Kabanicha, the mother-in-law from hell.

On the bright side, few things are more lushly beautiful than Janacek’s score, and no matter how disappointing your family’s Christmas was, it was almost certainly not as bad as that of the Kabanova household: the infidelity, guilt, village witch-hunt, and suicide. diving into the Volga of Janacek’s unfortunate heroine put most family quarrels into perspective. Paradoxically, this beautifully miserable production makes you feel excited.

★★★★ ☆

Until July 5,

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