Tensions in Berlin | Music | DW

Your ticket to the German classical music festival scene: Concert Hour has the picks of the season — two hours of music updated regularly.

Along with host Rick Fulker, the musicians themselves are on hand to give their insights into the events and the music.

Normally we pay a yearly visit to a quaint, historic power plant in the remote countryside for the festival called Tensions, in Heimbach. By last spring, it became apparent that the festival couldn’t take place there this time: The space was a bit too cramped during the pandemic.

So the location changed, but not the spirit. Friends of the German pianist Lars Vogt were at the Church of Jesus Christ in Berlin in June to render music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Jörg Widmann, Johannes Brahms and the magnificent Quartet for the End of Time by Olivier Messiaen.


Part one:

Mozart wrote a tune to the words In “Men Who Feel Love” for his opera The Magic Flute. It became a smash hit across Europe. Beethoven picked up on it and wrote his set of variations on the melody, which you’ll hear this hour.

Clarinetist Sharon Kam didn’t have to concern herself with aerosols and social distancing, as there are no fellow musicians when she plays the highly virtuosic Fantasy for Solo Clarinet composed by Jörg Widmann in 1993. Himself a clarinetist, Widmann writes, “This is my first real piece for my own instrument. In its hyped-up virtuosity and basic mood of cheerful irony, it’s an imaginary little scene, like combined dialogues of various persons in close spaces.”

Works in the classical repertory may seem clad in stone, but it wasn’t always that way. Clara Schumann was Johannes Brahms’s biggest fan, but she didn’t pull her punches when less than enthralled with his second piano trio, writing in her diary that she’d had “no satifactory impression of the work as a whole.”

Pianist Lars Vogt has a different view, as he explained to DW: “It’s become one of my favorite chamber music works, particularly with Brahms, all of whose chamber music works are absolute masterpieces. It has an incredible psychological journey, beginning with the positivity and yearning in the first movement. The second movement, in archaic style and with an incredibly quiet cello, is to me is one of the most precious and wonderful moments of music that Brahms ever wrote. It’s more like humming than singing. Then there’s that ghostlike, creepy third movement. Altogether, it’s a piece that’s incredibly close to my heart.”

Johannes Brahms at the piano (picture-alliance/akg-images)

Johannes Brahms at the piano

Ludwig van Beethoven
Seven variations on the duet Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen from Mozart’s Magic Flute, WoO 46  

Gustav Rivinius, cello

Mario Häring, piano


Jörg Widmann

Fantasy for solo clarinet  

Sharon Kam, clarinet


Johannes Brahms

Piano trio No. 2 in C Major, op. 87      

Lars Vogt, piano

Vilde Frang, violin

Julian Steckel, cello

Recorded by Radio Deutschlandfunk Kultur, Berlin, in the Church of Jesus Christ, Berlin on June 21 and 23, 2020

Olivier Messiaen (picture-alliance/akg-images/H. Maack)

Olivier Messiaen


Part two:

Imagine a bitter cold day in mid-winter in a prisoner of war camp in Germany during World War II. A clarinet, a violin, a cello and a piano, with ragged inmates playing a world premiere. The composer himself was a POW, the Frenchman Olivier Messiaen. The work: Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time). Although it’s attached to a particular moment in history, it truly is timeless, as the title suggests.

Cellist Tanja Tetzlaff says, “You can’t ignore the fact that the piece was created by a prisoner of war. But it’s imbued with tremendous hope. And to play it at this particular time when the world is really under threat! Who knows what kind of times we and our children will encounter? And when I play this piece by Messiaen, it takes my fear away.” 

Olivier Messiaen
Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time)   

Sharon Kam, clarinet

Antje Weithaas, violin

Tanja Tetzlaff, cello

Lars Vogt, piano

Recorded by Radio Deutschlandfunk Kultur, Berlin, in the Church of Jesus Christ, Berlin on June 23, 2020


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