Music by Jewish composers in the Philharmonie: farewell to the one-night stand

Concert programs with music by composers who fell victim to the Nazi regime have been around for a long time. That the Berliner Philharmoniker with Kirill Petrenko will take on this music on Thursday seems a bit lame. Alexander Zemlinsky’s “Lyric Symphony” reveals nothing about the composer’s unfortunate exile in the USA. The small detour to Italy for two short works by Leone Sinigaglia seems strange, while both the “Lyric Symphony” and the Second by Erwin Schulhoff were premiered in Prague.

This program wasn’t really about memory. Rather, it describes the loss of stylistic commitment in the modern age. Sinigaglia, born in 1868, writes around 1900 in the “Rapsodia piemontese” and the “Romanze” like an Italian Brahms, comparably solid, but brighter, not afraid of a beautiful sound accentuated by the upper voices. Noah Bendix-Balgley played the violin solo parts; he conveyed the sparkling figures of the “Rapsodia” about folk music of the Italian north more convincingly than the noble lines of romance, which one could imagine a bit richer.

Zemlinsky’s “Lyric Symphony” from 1922 is one of the last attempts to master the tonality that had become overly complex after Wagner, to let it change colors or to collect it in small motifs – big melodies no longer succeed. And yet this work is great because of the consequences it draws. The young Zemlinsky was still struggling with silly grandiose plans like a “Symphony of Death”. The 50-year-old’s “Lyric Symphony” for soprano and baritone to texts by Rabindranath Tagore tells a more modest story of a one-night stand that begins with great expectations and is thoroughly enjoyed, but then ends with impressive poise on both sides.

Petrenko’s reading sounds rather tense

The contrast between intimacy and vastness, between pathos and sobriety makes the work exciting. Petrenko’s reading, however, sounds rather tense. He also does not let go of the natural music of the fourth movement, which is magnificently dissolved into timeless sounds. His soloists also have opposing views on how to perform the chants assigned to them in turn. Christian Gerhaher takes them as songs, speaks too clearly and misses line and continuous sound. Lise Davidsen takes them as opera arias – and with richly flowing and almost shockingly quiet colors comes closer to the truth.

While Zemlinsky has reached the ultimate level of expressive and harmonious fullness, Schulhoff’s second from 1932 takes a classicistic turn. Nothing here is to be taken literally, sometimes it sounds like “I feel it” from Mozart’s portrait aria, sometimes it smells Beethoven-like – but it always dissolves in other directions than expected, is continued absurdly or gets lost in house music fiddles , until echoes of jazz intensify in the scherzo. An easy, yet significant work, played with relish and wit by the Philharmoniker under Petrenko.

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