The Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado bid farewell to 1996 in the Philharmonie with a programme full of verve and flavour. The theme was the world of gypsies and of dance as portrayed in the works of Brahms and Ravel. The evening’s soloist was Maxim Vengerov – who the All Music Guide described as an “astoundingly fine violinist with limitless technique, endless tone, and bottomless soul”.
Johannes Brahms loved the music of the gypsies ever since the days of his youth, when many gypsy bands used to play on the streets of his home town, Hamburg. This passion was reflected in Brahms’ rousing Hungarian Dances and also in his Zigeunerlieder (gypsy songs) which – particularly in this lively performance by the Swedish Radio Choir – come across like mini musical dramas.
Two works by Ravel provide music of a darker hue in this concert: the Tzigane for violin and orchestra, where virtuosity and melancholy are unusually combined, and La Valse, which looks in the musical direction of Hungary’s close neighbour, Austria. In this tone poem, a Strauss-influenced waltz swirls intoxicatingly ever faster until it becomes a “deadly maelstrom” (Ravel).
However, the critic of the magazine Gramophone was doubtlessly correct when he described the evening as a “fun occasion, with Claudio Abbado smiling during the performances more than I can ever remember, drawing out the most affectionate as well as the most polished playing.”