Riccardo Chailly was not even 27 years old when he was invited by Herbert von Karajan to make his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in January 1980 – conducting Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. “I can still remember exactly”, says the music director of Leipzig’s Gewandhausorchester, “how I was simply bowled over then by the sound of this orchestra, this power and warmth – it was unbelievable.” Immediately afterwards, Chailly was asked to become the new principal conductor of the RSO Berlin (now the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester). “That also offered the possibility of continuing to conduct the Philharmoniker and of developing my connection with Karajan.”
For his Berlin appearance in November 2013, Riccardo Chailly begins the programme with Richard Wagner’s seldom performed Faust Overture. The main work is Franz Liszt’s Faust Symphony, whose first movement paraphrases a motif from the Wagner overture. The emotional music of the second movement (“Gretchen”) was praised by Liszt’s biographer Richard Pohl: “Even Liszt’s adversaries could not resist the spell of this Gretchen.” The ghostly third movement (“Mephistopheles”), in which the “Faust” themes are increasingly distorted and parodied, owes a debt to the finale of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (the opening bars of both finales are almost identical). At the end, the tension subsides – with a choral finale in radiant C major in which Liszt sets the last lines of Goethe’s Faust II.