Sunday, November 24, 2019

Ligeti, Atmosphères
Wagner, Prelude to Lohengrin Act 1
Berg, Violin Concerto
Brahms, Symphony No. 3 in F major

Vienna Philharmonic
Christoph von Dohnányi, conductor
Rainer Honeck, violin

Musikverein, Vienna (23 November, 2019)

Some problems can be solved with money. Some require time. Getting tickets to a subscription concert at the Musikverein requires both (unless you are prepared to stand, in which case it is pretty easy to pick up a 5 euro ticket). I can't reveal my strategy, of course, but it was certainly worth it to hear the 90-year old Christoph von Dohanyi with the Vienna Philharmonic, which he has conducted many times as a guest conductor.

The program opened with the shimmering sound-world of Ligeti's Atmosphères, a good vehicle to display the orchestra's virtuosity and the conductor's grasp of the progession of blocks of sound. As is occasionally done Dohnányi went straight from Atmosphères to the Lohengrin prelude. This worked very well. The juxtasposition reminding us both of how Wagner was pushing the limits of tonality and of how in this piece Ligeti looks back to a very very late Romantic emotional universe. Berg's Violin Concerto also looks back in the same direction. Dohnányi and Painer Honeck highlighted the diatonic lyricism of the piece, where they obviously had a great rapport.

After the interval, Rainer Honeck returned to his regular position as concertmaster for a deeply satisfying performance of Brahm's Third Symphony, as good as any I have heard. Dohhányi is one of the last great conductors of the post-war era (he took up his first position at Lübeck in 1957), and it was wonderful to hear him working with an orchestra as steeped in Brahms as the Vienna Philharmonic. Brahms's Third Symphony is not easy to carry off well, but it would have been hard to fault this performance, which was justly well received.

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