Review: Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra Gets Ambitious at Carnegie Hall
“Grow Up or Go Home” by the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra carnegie hall Saturday night. The last time the group appeared in America was in 1967, more than 50 years ago. For this programme, the Hamburg musicians, led by conductor Kent Nagano, performed world premieres of American composers in a large-scale ambitious act. Sean Shepard’s t12 movement “An Einem Klaren Tag — On a Clear Day” for cello, chorus and orchestra.
Here, that ambition demanded the participation of 5 or more people A choir from both Germany and New York: Audi Jugendchorakademie (youth choir sponsored by an automaker). Alsterspatzen (Children and Youth Choir of the Hamburg State Opera); Dresdner Kreuzchor (Boys Choir dating back to the 13th century). Young ClassX Ensemble (Hamburg Youth Choir). And the Young New Yorkers Chorus. By my count, more than 200 instrumentalists and singers flocked to Carnegie’s stage, plus Nagano and cello soloist Jan Vogler, who played nearly an hour of his work.
The concert opened with music by Johannes Brahms from Hamburg. The orchestra played his short, sonically bright and emotionally ambiguous “Schicksalslied” (Song of Doom) with the Audi singer. An ancient Greek-inspired text by Friedrich Hölderlin, written in three movements.“ It descends from radiant joy to dark despair before resolving into something akin to comfort. Nagano paid close attention to shape and phrasing, calming the strings to create a warm glow that seemed to radiate from within.
Nagano and the orchestra continued their careful, deep and purposeful sculpting of rhythm, articulation and dynamics in Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. showcasing the more frenzied and playful side of their collective personality. It’s a symphony. Even in that whimsical spirit, the musician has crafted every moment with great care.
That pinpoint precision was subdued by the sweep of Shepard’s gigantic, full-fledged work. Despite Vogler’s presence, it is not a concerto per se. Rather, Sheppard used the cello as an actor stepping into different roles to present occasional sorrowful, virtuoso monologues against a huge backdrop. There he conveys the spirit of the impoverished Mother Earth.
Shepard has a great flair for orchestral color. For example, in the 6th movement he juxtaposes frenetic and lyrical passages for cello solo with wind, brass, harp, piano and percussion (including glockenspiel and sleigh bells), creating a glittering gives a mystical effect. Although the work is immense in both size and scope, Nagano at times feels less of a conductor than the captain of a giant cruise ship, wrestling an oversized ship into a modest harbor. The flat keel on which he led Brahms and Beethoven was gone.
Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra
Plays Saturday at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. carnegiehall.org.