The music of the night takes many shapes and forms but this beautifully imagined programme was so rich in nocturnal sensations that it seemed to be caught somewhere in that strange netherworld between sleeping and waking.
Nachtstück from Franz Schreker’s opera Der ferne Klang is the stuff of dreams – sweet and fearful, sultry and deathly. It’s music that appears neither to begin nor to end but rather to drift indeterminately from one harmonic progression and one textural sensation to the next. To wake or not to wake, is that the question?
The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Ingo Metzmacher embraced the latter with voluptuous intent but the arrival of the extraordinary Leonidas Kavakos entirely shifted perspective. Leaning into the podium as if to whisper some highly sensitive confidence to the conductor, the intimate opening measures of the Korngold Violin Concerto (beginning, as does the Barber Violin Concerto, mid-sentence) seemed almost to suggest that the amorphousness of the Schreker had magically found form and focus.
Kavakos played like a dream eliciting an almost physical pleasure from the trueness of his intonation and the way in which certain phrases, certain chords landed. He and Metzmacher were a wonderfully knowing and instinctive partnership and it’s amazing how their good taste made the piece sound greater as a result. Kavakos always appears so effortless and relaxed that the intensity and transcendency of his playing almost comes as a surprise. The slow movement was about as good as it gets, the chromatic insinuations almost indecently beautiful. The resolution of the harmony on the very last chord was as good an example as I’ve heard in ages of how sexily dissonance can beget consonance.
Actually there was almost too much music in this hothouse of a programme though, of course, the logic of programming Schreker and Korngold alongside the elaborate abstractions and nocturnal bumpings and grindings of Mahler’s 7th Symphony was inescapable. Metzmacher and his orchestra gave an impressively taut and acutely well-heard account of the piece. Narrative tension was not, as is sometimes the case, at a premium and that sometimes problematic balance between the super-refined (the songful guitar and mandolin flecked fourth movement nocturne was quite exquisite) and the super-vulgar was never an issue. Metzmacher even nailed the insane logic of the finale’s maniacal “danceathon” thanks not least to a quite sensational first trumpet.