John Axelrod

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16 Mar 2011
Emotional Rollercoaster of Three Great Names

(Konzerthaus (Grosser Saal) Berlin)

Emotional rollercoaster of three great names

Review by Tobias Roth

The subject matter of Turkish fashion within the encompassing zones of (Viennese) classical music has recently become itself a fashion in program arrangement and in program booklets.

The Konzerthaus Berlin has now also come up with such a program: Under the direction of John Axelrod the Konzerthaus Orchestra performed Mozart's Overture to „The Abduction from the Seraglio“, Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto with Fazil Say as soloist, and Haydn's Symphony No. 100. In addition to the classic triumvirate the program also presented a composition by Fazil Say himself, the Violin Concerto „1001 Nights in the Harem“ with Patricia Kopatchinskaja.

The Mozart was swift and expressed lightly, everything phrased as concisely as possible, even the middle part sober to impish. The pomp of the striking mechanism was unleashed with pleasure. In terms of speed Axelrod sometimes led the orchestra within the danger zones of rhythmic precision, but he was successful: The overture was transformed into a single, stormy great fanfare. As one of the German master rhymers says: „Smooth ice, for those who know how to dance well, is a paradise."

Haydn's orchestral work, nicknamed the "military-Symphony“, came across equally elastic and springy. Here Axelrod was able to bring his humor without much friction,

and the alert musicians of the Konzerthaus Orchestra, especially the woodwinds, responded to his aplomb in magnificent shape. The swiftly charm of the fourth movement received just the right deep emphasis and thrust, even some darker colors, creating a contrast for the sunny ones to play against.

Beethoven's C minor Piano Concerto was chopped up by the soloist in many small, non-related parts. The perception of subtleties and relationships, the enjoyment of mixed and slowly unfolding emotions, the interest in conflicts of all kind: obviously Say doesn’t rely on the Berlin public to be capable of perceiving these.

The Violin Concerto „1001 Nights in the Harem“ was executed with the main cast of the 2008 premiere. The piece was much more coherent than the Beethoven concert. Like many of Says’ compositions it is a light and sweet opus, like a film soundtrack with abundant exoticism and effects, and seasoned with a virtuoso solo part. It is obviously culture industry as found in books, but since it’s not claiming to be anything else you can confidently restrict yourself to the instrumental performance of the soloists. And Kopatchinskajas control over the various aspects and sound spectra of the violin is most admirable. Virtuoso and unrestricted, she could let off steam and in parts develop a truly magical sound in this score, which was tailor-made for her.

Michel de Montaigne distinguishes two types of dialogues: those that gear toward the "Pretty and Beautiful", and the ones geared to the “Emphatic and Thorough“. Although these two approaches don’t necessarily have to play off against each other, the oriental evening at the Konzerthaus had too obviously only considered the first type. But the Pretty and Beautiful require as much artistic strength and wisdom as any other approach.

In this case John Axelrod probably has the most talent to contagion and eloquence, not least because he controls and keeps an eye on accuracy.

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