Time and again the New Year’s Eve Concerts at the Berlin Philharmonie have demonstrated that fastidious musicianship is by no means incompatible with entertainment value. To mark the end of 2011 the orchestra and Simon Rattle performed dance music of a particularly discerning kind by Dvořák, Grieg, Ravel, Strauss, Stravinsky and Brahms, with a rather more serious piece at the heart of the programme in the form of Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Evgeny Kissin as the soloist.
It was at an earlier New Year’s Eve Concert in 1988 that Kissin had made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker, performing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto under Herbert von Karajan. Twenty-three years later the former child prodigy showed that even at the age of forty he is still a force of nature at the keyboard. According to the critic of Der Tagesspiegel, it seemed “as if it was not hammers striking against steel strings but, rather, that Kissin was literally moulding the music with his hands, shaping and chiselling the raw material, driving waves of sound before him, allowing the notes to drain away, striking individual notes as if they were nails, and emptying a box of glass marbles. Tremendous applause.”
Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances and Brahms’s Hungarian Dances now feature regularly on the orchestra’s New Year’s Eve programmes under Sir Simon Rattle. In 2011 they were complemented by Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso, by the Dance of the Seven Veils from Strauss’s opera Salome and by excerpts from Stravinsky’s The Firebird. Here the bassoonist Stefan Schweigert and the oboist Albrecht Mayer were able to demonstrate their brilliance with thrilling solos before the orchestra brought the proceedings to a lively conclusion with two encores, sending their audience out into the night with terpsichorean abandon.