Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Hengelbrock/Ott: Not a great night for Liszt. Or Haydn.

Konzerthaus, 23/05/2012

NDR Sinfonieorchester, Thomas Hengelbrock, Alice Sara Ott

Haydn: Symphony no. 70 in D major, Hob. 1/70
Liszt: Piano Concerto no. 1 in E flat major, S. 124


This is not to be taken as a review since I left in the interval. But since I rarely do this – even with Harnoncourt et al. I stay to the bitter end and try to maintain as open a mind as possible – I will permit myself some remarks.

The Konzerthaus was packed for Alice Sara Ott, a pianist I’ve never heard live but am vaguely familiar with by name; she’s around the same age as Lise de la Salle (i.e. young) and professionally their profiles are similar – no string of big competition wins to propel them into the limelight, but rather careers which seemingly blossomed overnight. De la Salle I’ve heard a few times and will go out of my way to hear again since the news that she has, wisely for now, restricted herself for now to 45 concerts a year; she is already a pianist of great technical ability and interpretive depth. Ott, for the sake of my eardrums, I will be avoiding. Much of this Liszt concerto was mercilessly bashed into oblivion, her way of striking a note always unpleasantly catching the metallic edge of the string. I had taken bare feet as some kind of aversion mechanism, but was wrong – wave upon wave of attack built up into a vast muddy cloud which she would only clear at the most bizarre moments. Technically things were very insecure and I think my jaw dropped a good few inches when she launched into La campanella for her encore – a piece surely only to be attempted when one feels in absolutely optimal pianistic condition. I braced myself but was still left speechless – 30% of the notes is putting it very generously, and with each blunder there was the increasing desperation, flailing around, and banging which anyone similarly unfit to play the work will know well. You hammer out the notes you can and just pray to God that nobody notices the rest. I wanted to feel sorry for Ott here but think that there was much hubris involved in what was, quite simply, the worst train wreck I have witnessed on a Viennese concert platform.

But not staying for the second half had less to do with Ott than the thought of what would come. The NDR Sinfonieorchester appear to have caught some hyper-mutated form of Norrington’s Stuttgart bug – which considering that HIPster Thomas Hengelbrock has only led them since last year is some fast work. In the Haydn symphony some vibrato was permitted and period instruments were confined to the brass, but these were tiny concessions compared to the playing and direction we had to endure – truly Haydn with its heart, soul and spirit ripped out, and the cadaver systemically defibrillated for disturbingly perverse thrills. Hengelbrock continued in this vein for the Liszt with a HIPster’s skewed understanding of what constitutes authenticity for 19th-century music (overblown ad absurdum). After the interval I would have heard Brahms 1 humourlessly forced to fill out a similarly ludicrous straightjacket, and fled at the thought.

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