Delicate melancholy in various forms characterises this concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle. In addition to orchestral works by Ravel and Schubert, this concert includes late songs by Dvořák and Mahler. The soloist is the internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, who has been married to Simon Rattle since 2008.
The songs in the programme come from composers who are usually associated with more extrovert sonorities, but who, in this case, find the greatest intensity of expression through concentration and restraint. Thus, the driving force in Antonín Dvořák’s Biblical Songs is not so much the folkloric verve of earlier vocal works as the intimate immersion in the psalm texts which underlie the songs. Also in Mahler’s Rückert Lieder, we are confronted not by the creator of gigantic symphonies, but by the sensitive philosopher, who – as it says in one of the songs – “is lost to the world.”
The concert opens with Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, which was written in memory of the composer’s fallen war comrades. As the title suggests, the work also pays homage to François Couperin (1668–1733), explaining the interesting mixture of mourning with Baroque grace. Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony stands in contrast to such controlled expression. The shrouded mood portrayed in the opening bars soon turns into unbridled despair. While there are moments of rebellion and lightening of mood, the world-weariness of this music is all the more intense when set against this background.
As an added extra, there are two bonuses by Luciano Berio and Maurice Ravel, recorded at concerts on 25 and 26 January, which were performed as part of a change of programme. The concert opened with Berio’s Ritorno degli snovidenia (“The return of dreams”) for solo cello and chamber orchestra – a musical treatment of the destruction of revolutionary ideals during Stalinism. The solo part, composed for Mstislav Rostropovich, is played in our recording by Olaf Maninger, principal cellist of the Berliner Philharmoniker. He is accompanied by students of the Orchester-Akademie of the Berliner Philharmoniker. The second item is Ravel’s magical, exotic song cycle Shéhérazade, sung by Magdalena Kožená.