Nalli aus Manchester

Ives: Three Places in New England
Adams: My Father Knew Charles Ives
Gruber: Nieblesteinmusik (Violin Concerto No. 2) - Olivier Charlier
Von Einem: Concerto for Orchestra
On Friday 2 December, the BBC Philharmonic gave a concert of music by Charles Ives, John Adams, HK Gruber and Gottfried von Einem under the baton of HK Gruber (aka Nalli), their composer in residence.  It was a live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and I listened at home.

Gruber speaks with great insight and humour about music and it was good to hear him talk about the music he was about to conduct and in particular to enjoy the insight and affection for the music of his friend Gottfried von Einem.  Von Einem is largely uncelebrated outside of Austria and was a profound influence on Gruber.  

The older composer’s Concerto for Orchestra (last on the programme) is quoted in Gruber’s violin concerto Nebelsteinmusik.  It is hard, even now, to reconcile von Einem’s meteoric rise in wartime Germany and equally abrupt fall from grace at 25.  His Concerto for Orchestra, which was commissioned and premiered by Herbert von Karajan in 1944, but promptly roundly condemn as “degenerate music” and he became recorded by Gœbbels acting on a tip off that is was “jazz” from the Nazi’s wife.  It is a energetic and sparkling work, memorable not just for an array of choice moments but for the compact way they are put together. The jauntiness of mood is never at odds with his easy passage from formal late romanticism to jazz-based freedoms. Though I never feel it strays into jazz itself in this work.  It shows influences of von Einem’s teacher Blacher plus Stravinsky and Hindemith. Where it can it bustles along. The BBC Phil showed off their skills in all four pieces in this concert and von Einem perhaps came off best of all - not least I guess because of Gruber’s care for a favourite piece of his friend and mentor. 
To begin the concert we had Charles Ives “Three Places in New England” - this is now a workaday piece - its lost much of its wow factor which is a shame.  It is a moody and funny piece by turns and although one might reflect on the crazy overlapping of familiar tunes in Puttnam’s Camp, one might also get over that novelty and listen more carefully to the exotic impressionism of The Housatonic at Stockbridge.  Heady stuff and in Gruber’s hands it was too clinical either.  He brought out a rougher warmth to the music - a welcome reminder that these were real places depicted with real people in the scenes.  I liked it more than many other versions I’ve heard.
As balance (and continuing a proto - generational theme) we had John Adams piece “My Father Knew Charles Ives” a reflection on both the American voice as interpreted by Ives and refracted through Adams’ idiom.  And I think it is also reflective of times past for Adams - especially a fresh look at the landscape which Adams and Ives shared, but more importantly that Adams and his father shared.  The ascent on the mountain musically bridges the gap between Adams view of landscape and Ives view of people-scapes.  The Adams piece is tremendous and the orchestra played with great presence and humanity under Gruber: never letting slip the horrid truth (that, regrettably, John Adams’ father didn’t know Charles Ives).
It only remains to dwell on Oliver Charlier’s intricate and finely judged playing of Gruber’s Violin Concerto No. 2 of 1988, Nebelsteinmusik. This piece has more decadence about it than the von Einem and is all the better for it.  It was my first hearing of it and despite Gruber’s referencing of von Einem in it I felt this was a much more personal voice than the Concerto for Orchestra or Three Place for that matter.  The inner pieces of this concert programme were for me the highlights for this individual voice which Gruber seems to find and promote.
I suppose this was the kind of programme only a radio symphony orchestra would get the chance to play and as ever, they didn’t seem to put a foot wrong.  In the main radio orchestras don’t.  Gruber is a feisty and especially personable conductor  and the results drew out the rich quality in the rarer works and new views on the more familiar one - you can’t ask more than that.


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