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Christiane Karg
03 Nov 2016

A magnetic performance by Christiane Karg

The always stimulating Iván Fischer consistently validates himself as an innovative conductor with his fresh approaches. Last May, his soul-crushing performance of Mozart’s Requiem with his Budapest Festival Orchestra at the Concertgebouw left me a sobbing mess at the end, so hearing him lead the Berliner Philharmoniker in Mozart was a must.

Christiane Karg with the Berliner Philharmoniker

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Christiane Karg

Photo credit: Gisela Schenker


Soprano Christiane Karg proved utterly magnetic in two Mozart jewels that Fischer combined with the Symphony No. 38 in D major. In addition, he included Enescu and Bartók to form a highly engaging programme. The extreme contrast in styles before and after the intermission made me feel spoiled, as if I had attended two extraordinary concerts.

In the first part, Fischer led in Bartók’s unnerving masterpiece Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, preceded by an Enescu gem from 1903: the haunting Prélude à l'unisson. This first part from the Romanian composer’s Orchestral Suite No. 1 C major consists of thinly layered strings with, towards the end, a gravid timpani roll charging at their transparent, high registers.

Fischer reached gorgeously rarified heights with the Berliner strings, preparing us for the eerie Bartók. Enescu’s music reminded me of the vastness of a Sibelius icescape, fluctuating between highly suspenseful pianissimos and thunderous, swirling fortissimos. Fischer’s slow burning build up silenced the audience. You could cut the tension with a knife!

In Bartók, he took us for an adrenaline ride full of crisp contrasts, rhythmic momentum, outbursts of brilliance, and highly dynamic volume. His eye for detail led to shrilling extremes including flashes of incandescent heat. Fischer conducted with chipper exuberance supported by his invigorating energy. With generous charm, he even appeared ever so briefly to tap-dance to the pizzicato pecks in the dance passages of the final Allegro molto.

Fischer put the brawny Berliners’ ferocious power on display in Bartók’s otherworldly universe. The strings sounded muscular but transparent. Percussion delivered exhilarating effects, while Marie-Pierre Langlamet on the harp punctuated her notes with a violent temperament. Nikolaus Resa’s celesta made for an alien ambience, while Hendrik Heilmann performed percussively on the piano. Nestled in the center of the antiphonal orchestral set up, the trio’s focused intensity in their interplay demonstrated their superb musicianship.

After the break, Christiane Karg elevated the evening to an even higher quality. Though initially put off by her exalted emergence, I was quickly put in my place as she then dazzled as Sifare, originally a castrato role in Mitridate, re di Ponto. Sifare has a secret love for Aspasia, pledged to marriage to his father the King. As she sang the Second Act’s “Lungi da te, mio bene”, her expressive vocal prowess took hold over me. The vulnerability in Ms. Karg’s eyes dramatically sustained my attention as she subsequently disarm me with her expressive phrasing. Refined, sturdy curves from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s Félix Dervaux elegant horn play enriched Ms. Karg’s razorsharp tendresse with a noble aura.

She continued her magic with “Misera, dove son! -- Ah! non son’io che parlo” from the Metastasio’s popular libretto for the opera seria Ezio, previously set to music by Handel and Gluck. With authenticity, Karg moved through the brooding to the fiery temperaments. She connects with the audience. At some moments, her sense of intimacy had me fooled she sang solely for me. Positively radiant, the BPO complemented her extraordinary performance. My eyes teared up several times.

Several people left after Karg’s performance. Perhaps they thought they had heard Mozart’s Prague Symphony too many times. Their loss, because with Fischer’s sensitive touch, this rendition sounded fresh and full of Classical lushness. It was the perfect ending to such an enthralling rollercoaster.

David Pinedo

Christiane Karg (soprano), Iván Fischer (conductor), Berliner Philharmoniker.

October 27th 2016; Berlin Philharmonie.

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