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S & H International Concert Review

MOZART Symphony No. 41 Jupiter KV551, STRAUSS Don Juan; Macbeth Philharmonisches Orchester des Landeshaupstadt Kiel, Georg Fritzsch, April 14th 2002 (RB) Konzertsaal im Kieler Schloß, 24103, Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein

 

What a great idea! A Sunday morning concert. Clearly the people of Kiel and its catchment area think so too for the 1100 seater 1970s designed hall was about 97% full. Demand was high and there was a bustle around the ticket office with some season ticket holders offering discounted tickets for the concert. We bought two front row stall (Parkett) tickets for €30 when the full price was €54.

Often in the UK front-row tickets are undesirable as so many concert platforms are at eye-level when you are seated. Here the concert platform is raised by only an inch or so from the stalls floor-level. Conductor and players are set back from the audience by about a couple of metres.

The orchestra was unusually arranged. The string layout was left to right, first and second violins and then cellos and then violas. This configuration was kept for the second half of the concert though clearly the stage was more amply filled, not to say crowded, for the Strauss.

The Mozart was lovingly done with (I think) all repeats in place. This was a fine classical interpretation and one that I found grandly moving. The clarity of the parts and the realms of fantasy found by Fritsch and the Kiel orchestra made this a memorable experience with some surprising pre-echoes of Dvořák. The orchestra was pitched at about forty players. To give you some idea of scale there were four violas for the Mozart and ten for the Strauss.

After the intermission came the Richard Strauss pieces. Don Juan is much better known than Macbeth. It is stronger and the sequencing would have been improved if the order of the tone poems had been reversed.

In place of the pristine clarity and powerfully disciplined surge of the Jupiter Fritszch's Don Juan was done exuberantly. However when at full tilt the orchestral sound blurred into a more generalised effect. Granted it is a glorious noise but a more analytical result might have been possible if the parts had been rebalanced ... either that or I have been spoilt by years of artificially contrived 'perfection' on CD. Recalling another live Don Juan in 1998 I was reasonably sure that the sound can be more clearly rendered. This was certainly the case during the winter 1998 season when it was given by Libor Pešek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool.

Fritzsch however gave a most exciting performance brimming with exultation. The work glowed convincingly during Konzertmeister, Rüdiger Debus's pewter silvery amorous serenade, in the voluptuous playing of Neil Fellows' horns and in the shivering decay into which the piece falls in its closing pages. Fritsch would, on this showing, have made an outstanding job of Elgar's In the South. Another might-have-been.

It is a long time since I heard Macbeth - and then only on CD: Kempe and the Staatskapelle Dresden on EMI. I could not remember anything of it. The work is pretty determinedly dark with the usual Strauss caprice but otherwise rather over-boiled. A little restraint (Strauss was not good at this during his green years) would have made this much more effective. A good example of this is the repetitive use of gong strokes towards the end - over the top. Fritzsch gave a noble reading catching the bitterness and skulduggery of the Shakespeare original. Thank heavens that Strauss resisted the temptation he had fallen victim to in Aus Italien where traditional songs appeared. In the case of Macbeth there is no shortcake Tartan of the type that saps the life from Bruch's Scottish Fantasia. I would tend to bracket this with Tchaikovsky's Hamlet (a better piece) and Liszt's Héroïde Funèbre. Meantime I am grateful to Fritzsch and Kiel for the chance to hear this rare piece in a performance that meant business.

Fritzsch conducted with eloquent and stylish sweep using a baton and with generous though not exaggerated gestures. He conducted the whole concert without score. His gestural approach stands at the other end of the range from German conductors I have heard in years gone by. He has none of the stiff minimalist puppetry of Volker Wangenheim - very fine, all the same, in Bruckner. Here is a man who conveys enjoyment but has none of the personality overload of a Bernstein or a Karajan. He has a distinguished appearance looking uncannily like Mahler with those spectacles, that profile and high forehead.

We had some trouble finding the Schloß. It definitely does not look like a castle. It is not sign-posted or if there are signs we didn't find them. The thing to do is to aim for the Kunsthalle. The Schloß is part of the same complex just on the land-ward side of the Kaistraße near the Ostseekai (where ferries leave for the Baltic) and the free entry Schiffahrtsmuseum. It is also nonchalantly close to Kiel's red light district.

Having spent two days wandering around Kiel, commuting the 35 minutes train ride from Rendsburg, I can recommend two eating places. For excellent inexpensive cooked meals (fish a speciality - superb scholl - plaice, I think - for €12.50) try the bar meals at the Kiellinie just across the road and down the hill towards the sea from the Konzertsaal. It is near the pedestrian bridge over the road between the Kunsthalle and seafront/dockside. The Kiellinie also has friendly service though perhaps a bit slow. Kiellinie Restaurant Bar, Duerstenbrooker Weg 2, 0431 578855.

For dessert try wandering into town and the main pedestrianised area. Eiscafe Toscanini (I jest not!) has excellent coffee for €2.20 and a great selection of frighteningly enticing ice creams at €4.60. Eiscafe Toscanini is at Holstenstraße 86, 24103 Kiel. Service is rather unsmiling but is very quick and attentive.

NOTE

This review was a spin-off from a visit to my son who is taking the third year of his languages and politics degree at Lancaster University. The third year involves staying in Germany as an assistant teacher at a secondary school in Rendsburg. Rendsburg is a largish town in North Germany, not all that far from the Danish border. It is part of Schleswig-Holstein which for centuries was fought over with Denmark. The town lies on the Nord-Ostsee Kanal between Lübeck and Kiel. Kiel is a 35 minute train ride away. Both Lubeck and Hamburg are about 90 minutes away by rail.

Rob Barnett


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