When I've come across Ingo Metzmacher he's mostly been conducting fifth symphonies: I first heard him with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester in 2003 performing Mahler's, in 2006 with the Rotterdam Philharmonic it was Bruckner's. This year he brought one of Berlin's other orchestras for some rather different programming. The theme was Passacaglias.
They began with Webern's, which I found a little cluttered and lacking the clarity in his interpretation that Runnicles found in the composer's Im Sommerwind.
They were then joined on stage by Christian Tetzlaff to play Berg's violin concerto (not, as it seems possible some people behind us expected, Bruch's, based on their comment that they remembered it being "more romantic" than that). This was wonderful and Tetzlaff excelled in a technically difficult solo. Below him the orchestral accompaniment was of a high order. Metzmacher brought a strong sense of narrative to the piece. The tantalising and extended climb into the violin's upper register that brought the piece to a close was sublime and, in general, there was a nicely haunted feel to it, as one might expect of a work that was apparently influence by the death of family friend. As an encore he gave us a piece of solo Bach.
Alone in the second half sat Brahms' final symphony, with it's passacaglia finale. This was solid but lacked drama early on, though grew more impressive as the piece progressed, the last few bars of the first movement especially. The third movement was very exciting and the finale good, but it seemed to lack that extra interpretive something (which was only underscored by the fact I'd reached the Brahms four in my new Furtwangler box set, whose every bar drips with power, tension and emotion).
The orchestra were one of few big name continental bands at this year's festival and they are a fairly impressive ensemble, and very well balanced too.