Of course, everbody knows the Berliner Philharmoniker. It is one of the most famous orchestras in the world. In the days of Herbert von Karajan, it was regarded the embodiment of what every orchestra should be. But the Karajan days are long gone and, after a row of conductors who have taken for granted the orchestra’s sound (instead of building it), one asks himself if one should really see it as a primo inter pares among the world’s leading orchestras. I would dare say not. I would even dare say “not even in Berlin”.
Although the paring of Beethoven’s Piano concerto no. 4 to Shostakovich’s 11th symphony is like eating the dessert before the main dish, conductor Ingo Metzmacher produced a clear, forward moving performance that maybe required an approach less detached than the Chopin-ized style with which Nelson Freire played the solo piano part.
One always refer to the 1905 Symphony as film music without the film. Under Metzmacher, the DSO proved that images would only spoil the fun. Every musician in the orchestra played as a soloist, invested in the theatrical aspects of the work to produce a performance that was at once gripping and intense and millimetrically accurate. It was an orchestral tour de force as I have rarely seen in my life. I am not a connoiseur of Shostakovich music and cannot compare with hundreds of other performances – but I can say that the thunderous applauses for a not-entirely-popular work of around one hour of length is an evidence of how special this performance was.