“Music as Medicine” is a new research project in the US, attempting to study the effect of classical music on human health, well-being and recovery from neurological illness.  When the music is so masterfully administered by an orchestra affiliated to a pharmaceutical firm, the allegory becomes even more apt.

One of the great joys of an orchestral concert at a diplomatic event in India is the all-too-rare opportunity to hear our national anthem in lush orchestral colour. When heard in full harmonic glory, the reason why our Jana Gana Mana was adjudged by UNESCO as the best national anthem in the world becomes self-evident.

 

The Deutsche Philharmonie Merck were in Panjim on Tuesday to celebrate “Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities”, and perhaps predictably, the concert programme featured the great composers of the Austro-Germanic tradition: Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.

Leonore Overture no. 3, written by Beethoven for the first revision of his opera Fidelio, is more condensed than its predecessors and therefore packed with explosive expressivity. While the Philharmonie played it with admirable polish and the dynamic contrasts were elegant, the underlying dramatic tension, the heroic struggle of the unjustly imprisoned Florestan and his eventual joyful reunion with Leonore could have been brought to the fore with a little more panache.

Flautist Henrik Wiese won over the audience with a jaw-dropping display of breath control, technical brilliance and musicianship in Mozart’s second concerto for this instrument, in D major K314. The thinned orchestral forces of the Philharmonie for this work both sensitively supported and engaged the soloist in a dialogue of chamber music intimacy. Wiese’s thoughtful phrasing of Mozart’s long melodic lines were rendered with just the right mix of delicacy, playfulness, even mischief, the last especially evident in the jaunty launch of the third movement. And did the ears deceive, or did one hear echoes of the salvation-bringing off-stage trumpet call from Beethoven’s Leonore 3 in a cadenza-like passage here?

Brahms’ Third is arguably the most intimate and personal of his four symphonies. Here conductor Wolfgang Heinzel emerged as a Brahmsian of distinction. The soaring opening phrases following the heroically aspirant wind chords (Frei aber Froh) which began the work found the Philharmonie’s violins in splendid form.  The string-playing had opulence and charisma, the tempi were spot-on, and Heinzel drew plush, expansive sonorities from the woodwinds and brass. This was a Brahms Third of noble serenity and spiritual affirmation, as the heraldic grandeur of the F-A flat-F theme metamorphosed into autumnal submission towards the end. Particularly memorable were the singing cellos and the plangent solo horn in the Allegretto, which cast a spell even on the baby in the audience.

Three encores followed in short order: A brief  excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake with a bravura passage for flautist Wiese; and Brahms’ Hungarian Dances no. 1 & 5 only served to reinforce Heinzel’s Brahmsian credentials, although it did seem like travel fatigue had begun to set in, especially in Dance no. 1.

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 29 September 2011) 

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