There is a gallery of symphonic pictures to admire in this concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle. Strolling through this gallery is like a tour through Europe – with stops in France, the Czech Republic, Austria and England.
Just as in any collection of paintings, some of the pictures here are more abstract than others. Claude Debussy’s non-narrative Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, based on a poem by Symbolist Stéphane Mallarmé, is such an example. In this case, it is exactly the shimmering fleetingness of the music that gives it its charm. In contrast, the fairytale story in Antonín Dvořák’s tone poem The Golden Spinning Wheel is portrayed almost literally. The question is more whether one should rather focus on the spontaneous joy of Dvořák’s balladesque music which provides the more intensive pleasure.
Arnold Schoenberg’s distinctive early work Verklärte Nacht can also be seen to tell a story – a relationship drama in a forest at night – but for the composer, it was about something else, namely the representation of “poetic nature and human feelings.” With Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, we reach the “portrait” section of our musical gallery. One theme is followed by 14 variations, each of which represents a significant person in Elgar’s circle of friends. The musical portrait entitled “Nimrod” is particularly well known. Thanks to its perfectly measured emotionalism, it is a must at almost every state occasion in Great Britain.