June 14, 2008

Mixed Emotions

Janine Jansen and Sylvain Cambreling with the DSO


Benjamin Britten
What the Wild Flowers Tell Me (Arrangement des zweiten Satzes der Symphonie Nr. 3 von Gustav Mahler)

Robert Schumann
Symphonie Nr. 4 d-Moll op. 120


Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Sylvain Cambreling - Conductor
Janine Jansen - Violin

Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

Mixed Emotions

Janine Jansen and Sylvain Cambreling with the DSO

by Anicia Timberlake

Janine Jansen, Sylvain Cambreling, and the DSO delighted the audience at the Berliner Philharmonie on Saturday, June 14th. Ms. Jansen always draws a young crowd, as does the DSO, and it was nice to see so many people of different ages enjoying the performance together.

Janine Jansen

Ms. Jansen's interpretation of Britten's Violin Concerto was wonderfully alive and involved. She plays with a sweet, focused tone and a close attention to musical detail. Britten's concerto is more gesture-based than built on melody, and thus can sometimes sound abstract, like it has no context, no story. Ms. Jansen made each gesture into a meaningful statement, and retained a feeling of freshness, of improvisation. She often turned to face the orchestra, actively including them in the performance as her fellow soloists. In turn, they played with much more attention to detail than in the pieces without soloist. Occasionally, her vibrato bordered on the extreme, and it sometimes seemed as if the drama in her playing became an end in itself rather than a means to communicate emotion—but these were just minor quibbles with an excellent and very fresh performance. Ms. Jansen was called back onto stage many times by a cheering audience.

Britten's arrangement of Mahler, What the Wild Flowers Tell Me, was nicely played—but also just that. The performance was only sugar, a non-critical rendition of a piece which, as it is very sweet itself, could have used a little reflection. Maybe modern ears are too skeptical of the idea of innocence, but so much earnest, blissful frolicking in musical meadows seemed implausible. Especially from Mahler via Britten, one expects a hint of melancholy under the sunshine; the performance, which focused on the surface of the music, did not let it through.

Sylvain Cambreling is refreshingly hands-off as a conductor. He seemed content to let the orchestra run the course independently, while keeping his hands only loosely on the reins. This was quite successful in the Britten violin concerto, where Ms. Jansen did most of the leading, but the Schumann suffered a little from the lack of a strong impetus from the front. Mr. Cambreling guided well, much in the manner of a wise old man; however, the symphony may have needed a whimsical tyrant instead. Though generally the performance was exciting, headstrong, dramatic, and all of those other Schumann qualities, it erred a little on the side of safety. The musicians looked a little lackadaisical. The winds in particular were just a touch sloppy and out of tune. Most of the gestures were in place—for instance, nicely executed crescendos and tempo changes—but they could have used more fanatical commitment. Altogether the performance was much too healthy and reasonable, both of which are not exactly qualities which mix well with unbridled, excessive Romantic passion.