Last night, I finally made it to Daniel Barenboim’s ‘Prachtbau’ in the centre of Berlin, the new Pierre Boulez Saal. It is one of the few finished projects in the Unter den Linden area, sitting alongside the semi-reopened State Opera house and the still skeletal Berliner Schloss. Inside, the PBS is maybe a little boring visually (why the train company seat covers…?) but acoustically satisfying: warm, direct and intimate.
Nils Mönkemeyer and William Youn interspersed modern/contemporary solo works for viola and piano (from Sciarrino, N. Boulanger, Chin and Pintscher) around a Mozart arrangement and two staple duo sonatas by Schubert and Brahms. While of course most time and attention went to the Romantic and Classical repertoire, Mönkemeyer and Youn really excelled with their contemporary choices and curation. Segueing through Sciarrino and Mozart in the first half, for example, gave the concert a dynamic feel, mixing old and new without being too deliberate or self-conscious about it. Another highlight was Nadia Boulanger’s ‘Vers la Vie nouvelle’ for solo piano in the second half. Youn played it with real crunch and drama, revelling in the piece’s strong contrasts. Unsuk Chin’s manic Piano Etude No. 5 made for an interesting partner to it, continuing on the vivacity the Boulanger work ends with and taking it somewhere else.
True to their understated mission of combining old and new, their encore presented a recent work written for them. The duo played the second movement of Konstantia Gourzi’s ‘Hommage á Mozart’, a dreamy piece with a lilting ostinato in the fortepiano part that remained muted throughout, sounding fragile and distant. A very atmospheric evening in an exciting new space.