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Concert Review/ Alban Gerhardt & Steven Osborne & Viviane Hagner

img  Tobias

A grey-heared woman sitting a row in front of me is raising her hands in sheer disbelief: Steven Osborne and Alban Gerhardt have just rocketed through one of the most fiery passages of Shostakovich's Sonata for Cello and Piano and a few members of the audience have burst out in spontaneous between-movement applause – a moment of passion prevailing over exactly the kind of etiquette Daniel Hope's „Wann darf ich klatschen?“ („When do I applaud“), available from the Philharmonie's book- and music-shop, has sought to cleanse from the layman's behavioural palette. Even well into the next movement, I can see her incredulously shaking her head over the affront, changing seats after the short interval before the Schubert-Trio as to be able to escape the disturbing noises of some emotionally incontinent co-listeners.

Questions of correct in-concert behaviour aside, both reactions are not hard to understand. The way Osborne and Gerhardt are performing tonight is doubtlessly aimed straight at the heart. Osborne, whose sense for the dramatic use of dynamics has become even more refined after his use of earplugs both in practise and the live-situation, will take his Bechstein from meditative, gentle, lullabying quietude to thundering infernos of furious fortes within seconds, while his congenial Cello-partner and friend Gerhardt answers these carefully controlled outbursts with equally emphatic tactics. For them, the Shostakovich is like a thriller with many different chapters, a work of inner conflicts with unbearable tension and liberating release. Their rendition is just as much driven by the pure joy of again being able to share the stage again as it is informed of all the different influences at the heart of the composition, which incorporates Jazz, Sound Art, Folk, the 19th century and modernism into a winding narrative of dreams, drama, delight and despair.

On the other hand, it is easy to see why one would want to hang on to every note produced by their fingers. Especially in the Schubert, when Osborne and Gerhardt are joined by Violinist Viviane Hagner, their conversation is marked by all the ingredients required for fresh and contemporary chambermusic performances: Initiative, responsivity, impulse, restraint, instinct, respect, camaraderie, energy, finesse, depth, detail as well as confidence in one's own actions and real interest in the others'. In the jubilant group sections, their voices merge into a powerful unisono. In the more subdued, silenced and sensitive sections, meanwhile, their tones split into lines of great individuality and timbral richness. All performers are in constant eye contact with each other, signaling and creating transitions with their body language. Only a moment later, they’re back in their own world again, communicating to the outside with nothing but the stroke of a bow or the touch of a key.

It is an elated morning of music as an open statement of defiance against the ongoing threat of nuclear war. For almost fifty years, Bernard Lown has fought the dangers of proliferation, mass destruction and ecological disaster, preaching the power of collectivity as the only weapon against hawkish despotism. On the publication day of the translated version of his biography „Ein Leben für das Leben“ (English title: „Prescription for Survival“), the view of the world depicted in his introductory speech is bleak and hopeful at the same time: We can not rely on the seemingly sensible words of politicians like Barack Obama, because they will be corrupted. We can not sit back in our easy chairs and wait for the world to change, because that will leave it at the mercy of the intolerant. But if people can draw the right conclusions from events like the fall of the Berlin wall, they will realise the force behind their supposedly feeble hands. Hagner, Gerhardt and Osborne are focusing on this message of strength and optimism, finding untapped energy resources in their tantalizing trialogue. It is in letting down their guards that they are attaining their highest immediacy rather than in building up defences. Perhaps because their distinct personalities nonetheless secure a fragile high-voltage equilibrium, the audience is able to contain itself this time, only releasing their enthusiasm after the trio has brought the last round of a dizzying cycle of variations to an ecstatic climax. I can see my grey-haired listening companion nodding her head in approval this time.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Berliner Festspiele
Homepage: Steven Osborne
Homepage: Alban Gerhardt
Homepage: Viviane Hagner

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