Eight hours after 94-year old Herbert Blomstedt had achieved what seemed like a miracle with the Vienna Philharmonic in Salzburg's Großes Festspielhaus, presiding over performances of Honegger and Brahms that were relatively free of interpretative sculpting, 49-year old Kirill Petrenko led performances with the Berlin Philharmonic in the same hall of Weber, Hindemith and Schubert that were all about sculpting. And the results were glorious. What a happy orchestra this is, with the second stand of first violins and the first stand of double basses smiling and even enjoying a laugh or two along the way.

Kirill Petrenko and the Berlin Philharmonic
© Salzburg Festival | Marco Borelli

Petrenko created poetry in Weber's Oberon Overture from the first response to the horn opening. There were lovely touches of color from the flutes, a single portamento in the cellos was telling, and then Petrenko took the Allegro at an exhilarating young man's tempo shot through with rays of sunshine spreading through the strings before the clarinet solo, and sweet, full-toned oboes. The violins totally got into their sawing at the end and Petrenko sped up for an exciting conclusion although the braying horns were lost in the general commotion.

Despite Hindemith's Metamorphosis of Themes by Weber seeming like a quintessentially German piece, the composer had a crack American orchestra in mind, and the work was first performed in 1944 by Artur Rodziński and the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. No problem for the Berliners who played Hindemith's enormous score with stunning virtuosity, a sense of humor and a touch of the exotic in the woodwinds. In the Scherzo the brass were moderately jazzy, and the cellos and double basses superb. The concluding Marsch sent the packed house into intermission with plenty of noise and excitement even if the big swinging theme was more routine than incandescent.

Kirill Petrenko conducts the Berlin Philharmonic
© Salzburg Festival | Marco Borelli

There was a knowing inevitability in the Berliners' athletic performance of Schubert's Symphony no. 9 in C major which began with the Andante in two, suave horns and an underlying feeling of movement already signaling the lead-in to the Allegro ma non troppo which proceeded with lots of phrasing in the strings. The ominous trombones started quietly and remained so, as Schubert intended. Petrenko took the repeat and the orchestra began sounding more involved, more breathless. The inner parts began coming alive, although the iconic bubbling up in the violins was subsumed in the general Schubertian mélée and the woodwinds lacked sex appeal in their little tune. Petrenko transitioned convincingly to a faster tempo at the coda with the brass casually driving the action, and powerful, broadened triplets at the end. 

The Andante con moto was a shade too fast, like a stroll in the park, and Petrenko became increasingly fun to watch, gnomic and lithe and obviously relishing his pleasant assignment. The low string chords leading to the A minor horn call return were magical and at the storm the horns, cellos and double basses were thunderous. Petrenko took a crisp tempo for the Scherzo with a self-conscious Schubertian lilt in the violins. The Trio had its own tempo, a slight bit slower, and was appropriately, endlessly lovely. The Finale was quick and brilliantly energized and when Schubert finally unleashes the trombones at the end, Petrenko and the Philharmonic were more than willing to oblige.

****1