16 July, 2011

Concert Review: Shenzhen SO - Fred Buttkewitz - Shostakovich

Concert Review: Shenzhen SO - Fred Buttkewitz - Shostakovich

8 July, 2011, Shenzhen Concert Hall
Fred Buttkewitz - Bai Ming 白明

White birds flying against a terrible black sky
Before I went into this concert, I tried to dig up info on the rather anonymous German conductor Fred Buttkewitz. The only detailed info was available in German, on the website of the National Youth Orchestra of Hamburg, of which he is Chief Conductor (Google translation of bio). It would appear he is yet another of those German kappellmeisters who came up through the ranks of their substantial network of radio orchestras (which is good training, no doubt). I did not have much expectation, but I was surprised from the start.

Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia is nothing if not atmosphere, and the marvelous winds delivered it right from the start, and beautiful strings followed. It was also clear Buttkewitz was not into micro-management and focused on the long line. The next piece for viola and small orchestra (no upper strings), Hindemith's Der Schwanendreher, proved more problematic. This is difficult music that takes more than good playing to come off. Although the orchestra and soloist (section leader) Bai Ming 白明 played safe, and Buttkewitz showed good control, the performance was too soft to display the neoclassical flavor and the jagged rhythmic patterns so essential to this composer's works. Nonetheless, a good try at a piece of difficult music that is certainly not a crowd-pleaser. A bonus came in the form of the contribution by the Russian lady harpist, of subtle and great beauty; and she in the encore of Chinese transcription outshone the violist!

The second half of the substantial program was a magnificent, and magnanimous, account of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 11. Compared with the 6th, this symphony perhaps is not as difficult to bring off, but with last year's seemingly definitive (I'd say immortal) June 4 performance by HKPO under Alexander Lazarev still fresh in the mind, before the performance I had thought I might be disappointed.

Quite the opposite happened: the performance in this sonically resplendent hall was a "symphonic" revelation that taught me much about the music and to look beyond the graphic episodes. For insight on this symphony, I'd refer to to the excellent CSO program notes.

The first movement was a little slower than usual, a little plain even, but it unfolded steadily and inexorably under Buttkewitz' steady baton, with hardly any rubato, building up quite powerfully to the second movement. The musical jostling before the massacre was well conveyed. The events of January 9th, 1905, were depicted with great power. I had thought it would not happen, but slowly and surely tears rolled down my cheeks. The SSO was perhaps not as vehement and graphic as the HKPO under Lazarev, but the playing was precise and superlative, with the weightiest sonority I have heard yet from this orchestra.

After the brilliance of the first two movements, many performances (both live and recorded) lose ground in the next two movements, which in lesser hands become anti-climatic. Emphatically not so here. As a matter of fact, under the steady direction of Buttkewitz I became intensely aware for the first time of what Shostakovich was trying to convey in the second-half of the symphony. Reminiscence, remembrance, yes; but to overcome is the riding goal. The music may sometimes collapse or lurch forward awkwardly but it is always forward, no matter the cost. The past (in musical quotation) comes back to haunt us, but is always beaten back by heroic calls of change (in musical quotation). There is always something new in the horizon, but never just exchanging one form of brutality for another, instead something more magnanimous and forgiving of the unspeakable past. In this performance, the symbolism of the kaleidoscopic shift of material became clear as day. In this respect, the second half even surpassed the HKPO-Lazarev performance in elucidating Shostakovich the enigma.

Attendance was abysmal, but the crowd was speechless and enthusiastic at the end. For once, in SZ, I was not at all the only person yelling "Bravo!" My hats off to the conductor and orchestra.

The great Anna Akhmatova said of Shostakovich's use of old songs (from CSO notes) in this symphony: “Those songs were like white birds flying against a terrible black sky.” And so I understood at the time of performance.

The greatest music are unfathomable, and it takes a lifetime to plumb the depths. Reckonings during a live performance are moments of magic and uncommon. For this, I am grateful for this wonderful performance.

去年的六四,Alexander Lazarev 指揮的港樂給了我們一個永遠難忘的蕭氏第十一號 (點擊這裡)。我以爲這次深交的演出一定會給比了下去,但令人雀躍地,事實並不是這樣。在默默無名的 Fred Buttkewitz 領導下,深交的演出面面俱全, 感人之餘極具深度,再次證明好的音樂是無窮盡的,只待有心人去演繹。

指揮很有耐性,把曲子處理得有條不紊,非凡地一氣呵成。用畫面點的語言來形容的話,在漫長的第一樂章乃至第二樂章大屠殺高潮前,指揮緩而有力地營造了各種躍動,不安,恐懼與威脅的氣氛。大屠殺的刻畫理性,毫不揭斯底理,但仍然異常震撼,令人愕然淚下。 最難得的卻是下來的兩個樂章,結構性強的處理令我聽到了蕭氏各主題裏的主導性和相互關係: 各主題互相的鬥爭,在巨大犧牲後,時代的巨輪下擠出了艱苦的勝利。


上半場先是 Borodin 《亞細亞草原》,可喜地奏出了氣氛。下來的 Hindemith《烤天鵝的人》中提琴協奏曲,曲目艱深,中提琴首席白明演出穩健,但缺神采;樂隊也一樣,沒能奏出曲子應有的節奏感。

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