Each orchestra proved itself as being from the highest standard, though not
without some side notes. I started with the Berliner Philharmoniker. With a
sensational presence, Gijs Leenaars and the Berlin Radio Choir proved yet again
a force to reckon.
With a year that most were happy that ended, the Berliner Philharmoniker
programming of Verdi’s Requiem bid farewell to 2016 in both a
solemn and poignant fashion. In a disappointing replacement, Marek Janowski
filled in for a sick Riccardo Chailly. Among the soloists, Uruguayan Maria Jose
Siri dazzled with her pure soprano. She had the knack to stare you right in the
eyes, connecting with you during her most vulnerable moment.
The four soloists beautifully entwined their voices in a flow of layers that
contrasted richly with each other. When singing, Verdi’s operatic style
resonated dramatically. Riccardo Zanellato’s voice comforted with a
loving father’s soothing sensitivity. His bass robust full of nuance
never overwhelmed and measured up to Verdi’s fortissimo moments.
As she soaked in anguish and despair, Daniela Barcellona theatricality never
out balanced her sadness. She shined in the opening of the “Lux
Aeterna”. Roberto Aronica carried himself with the stiff, distanced
posture of a king, which was complimented by his stamina and consistency. At
the same time, his lyrical tenor made for a soulful presence. The final “Libera
Me” certainly made for an emotional climactic ending.
When I discovered Chailly couldn’t perform Verdi’s Requiem, my
usual curiosity hearing a conductor for the first time was not enough to make
up for my disappointment. Janowski had not conducted the BPO for twenty years.
Though he was Maestro of the Berlin Radio Symphony, for which he just gave his
final concerts as Principal Conductor.
While he did not precisely manage the egos of the sections of the BPO into
one cohesion, he was definitely successfully and pushing the soloists and choir
to Verdi’s operatic standard. It would be interesting to see how he
manages the Bayreuth Orchestra for the conducting of Castorff’s last
staging of his production of the Ring Cycle this summer.
Janowski failed to bring about the Berliner’s orchestral magic. Unity lacked. Mr. Janowski’s elegant conducting notwithstanding, he lacks the intensity of leadership to centre the focus around him. With these top orchestras, a big and warmhearted ego is needed to keep everyone in check. In fact, for most of the Requiem, I hardly noticed he was there at all, as I my attention was diverted to the mind blowing vocals. Right before the ending, as a lady stood up to leave, the soloists, in particularly Mr. Aranico looked fully perplexed.
Janowski’s lack of pulling together the egos of the BPO, led to a sagging momentum during the quieter passages. Amongst the audience yawns escaped during the slow passages of the “Dies Irae” sequence. But this is the Berliner, so there was still plenty of beauty. Verdi’s wind passages bubbled effervescently. The strings resonated with rich depth. Brass announced themselves with cheer and joy. Most notably, Daniele Damiano and his fraternity of bassoonists put a smile on my face in Verdi’s quirky tones delivered with a jazzy intonation.
The evening belonged to the Berlin Radio Choir. Its leader Gijs Leenaars
proved indispensable as the “Dies Irae” recurrences bulldozed
through my social composure. Breaking down the barriers to my soul, the choir
tapped into the disappointment, sadness, and even still some of the shock of
the events of 2016. Leenaars’s choir is a force of nature, as it purged
me from my panic and despair, and set up 2017 with a determined hope, however
much self-deluding that might be.